As we begin our coaching session, Nick is fired up. He radiates energy, his eyes are beaming with determination, and he never really comes to a full rest. He speaks passionately of a new initiative he is spearheading, taking on the looming threats from Silicon Valley, and rethinking his company’s business model completely.
I recognize this behavior in Nick, having seen it many times over the years since he was first singled out as a high-potential talent. “Restless and relentless” have been his trademarks as he has risen through the ranks and aced one challenge after another.
But this time, I notice something new. Beneath the usual can-do attitude there is an inkling of something else: Mild disorientation and even signs of exhaustion. “It’s like sprinting all you can, and then you turn a corner and find that you are actually setting out on a marathon,” he
For women with leadership ambitions, there is no shortage of advice for how to reach the top. By learning to lean in, speak out, negotiate, delegate, and a dozen other behaviors, women everywhere are launching themselves through the glass ceilings of their organizations, landing jobs at or near the C-suite level.
But what happens after the promotion? While top-level jobs are tough on everyone, the transition to senior management comes with extra challenges for women. Some are psychological, pertaining to gender differences in risk-taking and self-confidence. Others are structural; in parenting, for instance, childcare and domestic duties are still disproportionately shouldered by the female partner. While these barriers affect women at all levels of the organization, they are particularly pronounced in the pressure-cooker environment at the top, putting women at a disadvantage.
Dealing with this challenge is something I am deeply familiar with. I am a certified organizational