The statistics are grim. Only 6.4% of Fortune 500 companies are led by female CEOs. The lack of women at the top isn’t the result of a lack of desire. Women want to rise the ranks of the corporate hierarchy. More than half (64%) aspire to be a senior leader of an organization, according to research by KPMG. We admire the female leaders who have successfully climbed to the top, Meg Whitman, Marissa Mayer, and Mary Barra, among many others.
What does it take to reach the top? When we look closely, we see that the females who have successfully shattered glass ceilings tend to share key characteristics. They tend to have a healthy balance of humility and risk taking.
Humility is a key characteristic of every successful leader. It means listening to others, admitting your mistakes, seeking input from others, and embracing change. Humility is an especially key characteristic of successful female leaders. Research by Korn Ferry that investigated 57 female CEOs found that female CEOs were much more likely to exhibit humility, as compared to the general population.
While humility is an important trait for both male and female leaders, it is especially valuable for females. Humble female executives are better able to learn from their and others' mistakes. They welcome constructive feedback and use it to improve their future performance. They also act as team players. When it comes time for promotions and other advancement opportunities, humble females are seen as more authentic and less likely to abuse their power.
2. Risk taking
Humility on its own won’t get you to the top. It’s important to remember that humility does not mean thinking less of yourself and standing in others’ shadows. Humility must be coupled with risk taking. Females will remain underappreciated in the workplace if they don’t take risks that help them demonstrate their worth.
If you’re intent on rising the ranks, you can’t afford to wait for someone to come knocking at your cubicle. Be proactive and ask to take on high-profile projects and initiatives, especially those for which there is no clear-cut solution. Trust your gut and intelligently make bold moves without fearing failure. Step out of your comfort zone and pave your own path.
Humility and risk taking can sometimes be seen as at odds with another. This is only true when humility is taken to the extreme and ends in self-deprecation and when risk taking is taken to its extreme and ends in arrogance. It’s all about balance. Think of yourself on a see-saw with risk taking on one side and humility on the other. How balanced are you?
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner