One of the topics that comes up regularly in my coaching is women who are uncomfortable with their own ambition and worried about how others perceive them. Some have shared stories about how women in their organisations are labelled as ‘pushy’ and almost demonised if they’ve shown too strong a desire and a determination to succeed.
The French have an expression for pushily ambitious people: “les dents qui rayent le parquet” – to have teeth so long they scratch the parquet floor – meaning someone that wants it all and will do whatever they have to, to get it.
But l want to be really clear – being ambitious does not mean you are pushy. Your teeth are not too long just because you know what you want. I wanted to share my own thoughts on what are ambitious, not pushy attributes:
You are not a pushy woman just because you…:
- Aim high and feel like you have the potential of achieving even more
- Put in the extra hours because you want sooo much to achieve those goals you set yourself
- Want it all: happy family, children and a successful career
- Choose to spend more time at the office than at home
- Go to as many afterworks / senior leadership gatherings/ lunch ‘n’ learns as you can to meet new people and make new contacts
- Have the guts to try out new things and take on projects that might get your work noticed by decision makers
- Volunteer to lead a project when no one else puts their hand up
- Find opportunities where there are issues and put forward solutions
- Take risks because you believe it will take you one step closer to what you want
- Tell your boss what you want your next move to be and ask for their support
- Ask for a pay raise because you feel you deserve it
- On being asked by the boss where you want to be in 10 years, jokingly reply “in your shoes”…
Margaret Heffernan nails it in her book ‘The Naked Truth: A working Woman’s Manifesto on Business and What Really Matters’ when she says, “taking ourselves seriously is not selfish or greedy or wrong. In fact, quite the opposite: failing to do so wastes our gifts, diminishes our contribution. We can do more for ourselves and those we love when we put ourselves in places we can succeed.”
For many of us, our careers are a central part of our lives. Planning the steps to achieve what we want, offering to take on new projects or responsibilities to build our experience and openly sharing our ambitions with those that can help us is a logical way to move forward – it is not pushy.
Ambition in a woman is still considered by many to be unsavoury because the characteristics associated with ambition are traditionally considered to be masculine. Being ambitious goes against what is expected of a woman, so ambitious women get labelled as pushy, brash or bitchy. Or as Heffernan puts it so well, “sexless harridans, greedy and obsessed with power.” Ambition in women becomes an issue when it becomes visible to those who feel threatened by it.
While this is a much broader societal issue where change is still needed, it’s something that as an ambitious individual we can face up to and decide to work through. In coaching sessions, I might ask my clients to reflect upon the following types of questions:
- What do you mean by ambitious? What is it that you want?
- How ambitious are you? And what for?
- What will be the impact of achieving your ambition? What is success worth to you?
- What is your ultimate professional goal? Do you have the skills you need? If not, what is your plan to get them?
- What is the obstacle to your success?
- Does your organisation know how ambitious you are?
- What are the consequences of not sharing your professional ambitions?
Taking this type of approach means we can embrace our ambition by getting curious about it and becoming comfortable with it rather than feeling like it’s something we need to “manage”. We should absolutely continue to do what we believe will help us achieve the professional and personal goals we aspire to – and be as open about it as we need to be!
Visibility is key to being successful and part of visibility is making people aware of how good you are and how serious you are about your career.
Next time you’re in a situation where you’re questioning yourself about whether it’s ok to be your own advocate, remember why you’re doing it and what you want. Hold tight to that self-belief!
If this is something that resonates with you and that you’d like to work through, get in touch!