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5 Questions for Aspiring Female Executives

We can all agree that having women in executive leadership is not a new concept, but recent trends have shown more interest than ever in this important initiative. Multiple contemporary studies have shown that women in leadership roles bring forth positive business impact, and gender diversity has been repeatedly linked to greater innovation, productivity, employee satisfaction and retention rates. Ask your local HR professional, empowering female leadership is good for a company’s bottom line.

Margaret Spence, CEO and founder of The Employee to CEO Project, chooses to focus her efforts on empowering women in the workplace to figure out what they actually want in their career – and then develop an action plan to achieve it. One of the most thought-provoking statements she makes in her book, Leadership Self-Transformation addresses the concept of owning your professional journey, even the disappointments:

 “Failing to secure a sought-after leadership position is not a reflection on your boss; it is a reflection on you.”

According to Spence, the responsibility of developing and achieving leadership opportunities lies directly with the individual, by internally defining their vision, value proposition and career development goals. Taking this a step further, she demonstrates that genuine impact is achieved by recognizing and evading traditional workplace snares that prevent women from moving up, some of which are self-inflicted.

For example, Spence argues that “women’s sense of loyalty can outweigh their rational sense of wanting more out of life.” Women place more value on relationships with their teams and succeeding in their current roles, while feeling guilt when considering opportunities that will advance their careers. They become so attached to the idea of needing to stay where they are, they may miss the advancement that comes from moving to a new team or even a new department.

5 Questions from Spence

Margaret wrote her book around 52 career-defining questions every high-achieving woman must answer. They are all thought-provoking and sometimes uncomfortable questions. I chose my favorite five to dig into further, alongside lessons I learned through reading.

1. Are you prepared to raise your hand and lead?

Leadership is a mentality. We have to choose to be either leadership-ready or be led. If the opportunity arises, will you raise your hand? If not, why? What’s holding you back and how can you overcome it?

2. Do you understand your passion and your purpose?

The activity of mapping out your passion and purpose with a vision board can help formalize your goals and provide a clear achievement focus.

3. How do you get in your own way?

What is a traditional workplace trap that is preventing you from reaching out for leadership opportunities? Do you lack confidence to share innovative ideas or tackle tough conversations? Identify the self-inflicted obstacles that are hindering your progression.

4. Are you open to taking direction from others without taking it personally?

If you want to be a successful leader, you must be coachable and you must be willing to coach others. Cultivating a personal environment where you demonstrate your hunger for feedback will help those around you be comfortable enough to share your blind spots. Cherish those who will provide honest advice on improvement opportunities.

5. Where do you see your career?

This is not a one-time vision board exercise – this requires looking internally and spelling out what you define as success in your career. Do you want to be a CHRO? A COO? A director? What is your ultimate capstone position and how can you project a plan to achieve it?

When I met Margaret, she was preparing to dive into our Paycom podcast, HR Break Room, to share some immediately impactful resources HR professionals can use to increase their influence – listen to the episode here. The conversation was dynamic, powerful and inspired me to ask myself some tough questions.

As we wrapped up the recording, I asked Margaret what her most important question was and she told me, “The most important question you can ask yourself as a female leader is ‘What do you want? In life? In a career? In success?’” Sure, it’s a simple question, but if I’ve learned anything from Margaret, it’s that the answer can rewrite your story and change the trajectory of your career.

About the author
Author picture, Tiffany Gamblin
Tiffany Gamblin
Tiffany Gamblin is an HR Manager at Paycom. Since joining the organization in 2016, she has helped develop and implement processes and strategies across the HR department, including benefits, employee relations, compliance and onboarding. Gamblin holds a Senior Certified Professional designation from the Society for Human Resource Management, and obtained a bachelor’s degree in business from University of Central Oklahoma. She brings more than 10 years of HR experience in a generalist capacity to the team.