January 05, 2018 Practice Points

Advice for Women in Overcoming Obstacles to Leadership

By Chantel Kramme

Prudy Gourguechon is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who has spent her career trying to figure out why people do what they do. She works with leaders across various industries to understand the “irrational, emotional and idiosyncratic forces that lie beneath both every day and transformative business decisions.” In her article, “Rising Women Leaders—Overcoming 10 Obstacles To Powering Up,” published on Forbes.com, Gourguechon begins by noting that most of the women leaders she works with are uncomfortable with the use of power. Gourguechon offers “ten problem attitudes and behaviors” that she believes women leaders frequently encounter, and how they can be addressed.

  1. Discomfort with having the power to decide, leading to over-reliance on consensus-building. Leaders should to gather the relevant information, make decisions decisively, and learn to tolerate complaints.
  2. Over-responsiveness to other peoples’ agendas at the expense of preserving time and energy to pursue your own. Leaders should keep their own priorities in mind rather than just spending their energy focusing on other people’s agendas.
  3. Hesitation about taking actions that will make other people unhappy. Leaders should accept that their decisions will sometimes create unhappiness in others, but not let it burden them or distract them from their goal.
  4. No (or insufficient) “empathetic wall.” Leaders should be able to understand and empathize with others without becoming emotionally burdened.
  5. Difficulty visualizing yourself as a leader. Leaders should take on leadership activities and seek to address problems without waiting to be designated the responsibility.
  6. Lack of familiarity and/or comfort with the social psychology of power. Leaders should exhibit cuing behaviors that signify leadership, such as controlling the meetings for agendas and scheduling appointments based on their own needs and wants as opposed to trying to convenience others.
  7. Being vague about what you expect of people, both above and below you. Leaders should make their expectations clear.
  8. Waiting for permission. Leaders should assess whether permission is absolutely necessary rather than seeking permission as a default position.
  9. Lack of practice thinking and acting strategically about power. Leaders should plan two or three steps ahead, mapping out how others will react to their exercise of power and the appropriate response.
  10. Failure to take credit. Leaders should balance giving credit to their team, while also acknowledging and claiming their own work.

The advice Gourguechon offers will likely strike no one as earth-shattering or new. Regardless of whether or not one agrees with her specific recommendations (most of which follow traditional notions of leadership style), Gourguechon’s article serves as a reminder that adopting a leadership mentality sometimes requires a shift in attitude, perspective, and behavior.

Chantel Kramme is associate at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP at Des Moines, Iowa.


Copyright © 2018, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).