Women & Leadership: Why inner strength is important


Dr. Marcia Reynolds is fascinated by the brain, especially what triggers enthusiasm and innovation in the workplace. This fascination has led her down many roads in her desire to stay on top of the shifts in employee engagement and leadership development. On this journey, she has developed and woven together three areas of expertise: organizational change, coaching and emotional intelligence. She is able to draw on these areas as she works with her latest passion – helping high-achieving women examine and strategize their full and amazing lives.Dr. Marcia Reynolds has been the past president of the International Coaching Federation. She is a Master Certified Coach. There are less than 1,000 in the world. She is one of the first ones. She has a passion for discovering and sharing how the brain works; how especially the brains of today’s smart, strong women.

Today we are going to talk with her about a lot of things but one of the things we are focusing in on is Wander Woman: How High Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. It was released in 2011 and has reached the number one position in leadership and management books for women on Amazon.

She’s also the author of the book, Outsmart Your Brain. She has written many, numerous other publications: Harvard Communications Newsletter, US Business Review, Cosmopolitan, and she is a regular blogger on Huffington and Psychology Today. You can watch some of her videos, which I did, on www.wanderwomanbook.com.

Marcia has a doctorate in organizational psychology while researching why women weren’t reaching the highest rungs on the corporate ladder, she uncovered many surprising facts about the challenges and desires of today’s high-achieving women. She then developed a number of techniques that proved to be great success with her female clients in helping them make decisions and create more emotionally satisfying lives, the results of which led her to write Wander Woman: How High Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: We usually like to get started with finding out a little bit more about you and who the people are that have had the greatest influence on you. Then we’ll get into exactly what you do and the book.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Okay. Actually, when I was thinking about that question there are three and I’m going to just give one sentence for each one.

I had something happen when I turned 20 years old and that was a long time ago. But I didn’t a short sentence in jail for some of my rebel ways and I met a woman there who really taught me that my inner strength was far more important than anything I had done in the past. That moving forward and not looking back was the most important thing. That was so critical for me that it doesn’t matter what mistakes we made as long as we know who we are and what we can do. I know for women, a lot of times we focus way too much on our mistakes, so that was really significant.

Then I have to say that Gloria Steinem has always been significant in my life. I’m so sorry people see her as divisive when what she preaches is collaboration. I think that is so critical right now that we are looking at each other as what we all can provide regardless of gender, age, culture, background. Collaboration is so critical at this moment.

Finally, my own coach who always reminds me that the wisdom that I seek is always inside of me so I’m very grateful to her.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Marcia as you are talking I’m thinking about the work that we all do. A lot of people have given themselves the title “Executive Coach,” but as we all know many of us who practice that do it with great distinction. Can you give us an overview of the work that you believe you are doing as an executive coach?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Sure. Because my background was always in corporate organizational development and training, when I went into coaching I still stayed with the whole corporate market. I would say that I coach executives but also rising stars; its actually at various levels. But lately, in the last year or so, I have been coaching a lot of executive teams as well because it seems like a lot of companies have kind of gotten lost in the last couple of years and there is a lot of chaos. Finding their direction is so important, so I’ve been doing more and more team work. Then there is always teaching leaders coaching skills so that they can apply coaching. I think when it comes to engagement, it’s truly about listening. You can’t really know what is going to motivate someone unless you ask them and listen because there are just so many different things that inspire us to move forward and there isn’t just one thing. So I think teaching coaching skills to leaders has been critical. Last month I just spent two weeks in China doing that. They are just so embracing coaching and so excited about it.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: I also want to make sure that our listeners know how to contact you Marcia. I have www.wanderwomanbook.com.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Either that or www.outsmartyourbrain.com is more of my broader website. The work I have been doing really for the last 15 years. So there is either www.wanderwomanbook.com that has a lot of information on high-achieving woman, and then www.outsmartyourbrain.com is more general leadership information.

Dr. Relly Nadler: So Marcia, we’ll focus this on Wander Woman, but feel free to bring in any of the other stuff; Cathy and I both have passions for emotional intelligence and any of the brain stuff. Why don’t we start with a little bit of the idea of this book and you refer to a lot of women today as smart, strong women as “wander” not “wonder.” Who is a “wander” woman?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Well it’s an interesting phenomenon that has really happened in the last 50 years that women for the first time in history have been brought up to believe that they can accomplish great things. The message has been given with such a vengeance because they weren’t given this message before. So we believe that we can accomplish something significant which is great in terms of our confidence and out abilities. But, on the other hand, it’s like what defines significance? It seems like it’s just never enough and there is always something more that we can do. So we wander from one project to another, one job to another, one career to another looking for what is the significant contribution I’m supposed to be giving, but never really quite sure when it’s enough.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You talk about being a wanderer. Can you still be a wanderer even if you stay in one place?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds:  Absolutely. What is really wonderful about the companies that have learned how to retain the high achieving women is that they know that these women want frequent new challenges, they want what I call “motion and meaning” in their work. So if they can give them this to where they feel like they are getting a chance to move around and accomplish new things and continue to learn, then they can stay. I know a number of corporations right here in Arizona that do that and the women do stay.

If they don’t provide this, then they tend to leave in 3-5 years, which is about what the job span is for women these days if they don’t get these needs met.

This is so critical. I was coaching an executive team just this week and the head, the managing director who runs the team kept saying, “I’m really worried because I don’t get the sense that the people on my team have this desire to win at all costs. I want them to feel like they are larcenists, or something.” I could just see the women on his team cringing because I know they feel like they are giving their best and they want to be first to market and they want to accomplish great things, but this killing the competition was not their value set. So I think it’s really important that leaders do understand what the values are; what keeps these women excited and committed to their work, and then they will stay. If they can wander around the company and get their needs met, they’ll stay.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Yes, it’s so important that generational and gender specific differences in happiness shows up in some odd ways. You claim that there are five mental blocks that keep these wonderful women from enjoying their success. Obviously, you and I have both seen that probably, many, many times in different ways. Relly, I’m sure you have too. Marcia, can you tell us what they are and what they might look like?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Sure. Sometimes when I share these with women, and my hope is that they laugh at themselves, because if we can laugh at ourselves then it makes it easier to change.

One of the blocks is these statements that we say to ourselves. We have this sense that “I am the one who knows.” We have become very committed to constantly learning and women are outnumbering men in degrees at all levels. We think we are not just smart, but we are the smartest in the area. Sometimes that keeps us from really listening to other ideas and accepting that there is more than one right answer. See, I have to be very careful that we don’t think we are the only one who knows what the answers are because that can block us from learning as well.

The second block is related to the first one, but we feel that, “I have to do all of the work around here because I’m the only one that knows how to do it.” So, I always say that today’s women; they say that women have difficulty saying “no.” Well it used to be that women had difficulty saying no because they were afraid that people wouldn’t like them. Today I find with smart, strong women, that we have difficulty saying no because we don’t think anyone else can do the job as good as we do. So we are just totally overburdened because it’s difficult to delegate, it’s difficult to trust, so we have to learn that as we move up in leadership, that we have to be able to teach and trust.

Number three is the assumption that I don’t need any help. We have worked so hard to not be seen as weak because we don’t want to be seen as a girl, we’re strong. We forget that sometimes that asking for help is a strength as well, plus it’s a gift to the people that we ask. So that, “I don’t need anybody, and I don’t need any help,” is really a detriment. Plus, I feel that when women come together to work things out and really help each other, that we are even stronger.

Number four, this one I thought was really interesting when I found it in the research and in fact, I realized how much I had been operating on this all my life with this subtle belief that I will always be disappointed. Because even though we are excited about a new job or sometimes even a new relationship or new things that happen in our lives, it’s not too long that it just doesn’t live up to our standards and so we get disappointed. We all have such high standards for ourselves, we tend to hold way to high of standards for other people. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t good at what they do, but we are defining the standards for them without allowing to see that maybe the way they excel is in a different way.

We have to be very careful about this holding people to standards and holding a job to a certain ideal, and then we get disappointed.

Dr. Relly Nadler: You know Marcia, before we get to the fifth one, just that alone; I can see how that fourth one influences number 1, 2 and 3. It’s I’ve got to do it myself, I don’t need any help. When I first heard you talk about this, the first 1, 2, and 3 sounded kind of like the same for males, and I was wondering if you were seeing–because the stereotype for a male is, “I can do it,” “I don’t need anybody’s help,” where women would be a little bit more relationship oriented–more of a movement towards those blocks that may be more typical at least the first three, for males?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Well, I’ve found in the research, there were many similarities with the high-achieving women and the younger generations of men coming in, that they had similar desires, not so much motivated by titles and money but really wanted significance and meaning. But also, this belief that I can do it myself and I am the one who knows around here and I’m right and I’m smart and I’m all of that, and I’m in control. So there are similarities. I think you’re right, the disappointment and then the last one this belief in our significance more so even that our ability, but our track to create significance is a little be more profound in women.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: So Marcia, could you state that as the fifth bullet?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Sure. The fifth block, which really led to me writing my book and when I first saw this I called it “the burden of greatness.” Again, we are brought up to believe that we can make a difference and we’ve got to go out and really be great out there, so it’s not so much that we are brought up to believe that we can find a career and be good, but we’ve been given this message that we can be great. Again, it’s very abstract. So, if I do something well, then there must be something that I can better. I don’t know how many women would tell me that before they’d even complete a project, they are looking for the next one. What’s next; been there done that. I have to move on because I know there is something more out there and something greater for me to do.

Well, that’s great because it does lead us to accomplish great things, but it leads to a lack of contentment and a constant restlessness that we feel and it’s not really healthy.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know Marcia, as you’re talking, one of the things that you remind me of are what I refer to as happiness traps. This last one of never being able to be satisfied and always looking at what is coming next, is a happiness trap. Instead of accepting your capacity to be content where you are, so I’m really excited to be grateful about what you are sharing because I think it is so important. You mentioned that women today are often confident on the outside, but not on the inside. I think if you could say a little bit more about that and how we can strengthen our sense of self so that this burden of greatness doesn’t overwhelm us, would be so helpful.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: It’s an interesting thing the split of confidence on the outside and my abilities, but not so confident about myself and who I am, again, since we are brought up to be really good at what we do. There are so many women that I talk to that are really smart in school, they were top athletes, many of them had this continual run of accomplishments, but nobody focused on who they were. So what happens is in this movement of constantly looking for something more I can accomplish, they often lose their sense of self if they ever even had it.

It is amazing when I ask women just to list out ten great gifts that they bring, and not what they do, but who they are, what difficulties they have with that. So, there is a lot of work that I do with my female clients with what I call appreciative dialogue. It takes a lot of being appreciative inquiry techniques when we look at what we have created in the past and bring it forward. I ask them, what were the five things that you did for a moment to feel fully alive and excited about what you accomplished? What gift, talents, emotions, attitude, perspective; what did you bring to the table that created that and not what you did. Things like your optimism, your boldness, your values as always starting early and creating good work and bringing teams together, and perspective. Often times women have a broad range of perspective. For me I feel like my global perspective is an advantage. Really focusing on these things not my weaknesses that I have to improve but continually to focus on what they internally bring to the table to accomplish great things.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: You know Marcia, I’m sure Relly is jumping at the bit to join in here, but I just want to say to our listeners; that daily exercise that you just expressed for our listeners, male or female, is so important in building your own sense of confidence and strength. Marcia, can I just ask you to repeat that little list that you just went through very quickly?

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: Sure. This exercise is in Wander Woman where I even define how to get a good dialogue partner to help you with this so you don’t trip back into deficiencies. Looking at your gifts, your talents, not just your strength of skill or your knowledge, but your gifts, your talents, your unique perspective that you bring because of your past experiences, your emotions, passion, boldness, values, attitudes of optimism; what is it that you bring to the table to create these great events? And, they are the thread of who you are when you weave all of them together. That is really who you are, not what you do.

Dr. Relly Nadler: One of the things Marcia, I’m picturing when you are saying this and I’ve used this for a while and I heard someone else saying it, and I think it’s true for women but I also think it’s true for men is: can you hold on to those strengths, talents, gifts, or the metaphor is it’s like a faucet where the drain is open. So here is all of this great stuff that goes in there, but it goes right through the pipes. So I think that appreciative dialogue and some other things that we would do; how do you close the drain so it’s being filled up with this. I think we all have that tendency like you said of asking what’s next. Close the drain. You’ve already got a lot of things in there, just don’t let it run through.

Dr. Marcia Reynolds: I think one of the things I also ask my clients is to do just, even if it’s 2 minutes—I say 3-5 minutes—but even if it’s 2 minutes a day to just vision how you want to show up today. Bring those strengths and into play. How do you want to show up, which of those do you want to use today. I also do a lot of work with archetypes. What archetype do you want to bring forward today? Then pick a key word that will bring out that picture automatically. What is your key word for the day?

Find out more about our conversation with Dr. Marcia Reynolds. Listen to the complete interview above, without commercials.


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