Becoming A Leader In The Workplace [Podcast]

June 19, 2017 Maria Abbe

This episode topic is a bit different from topics of the past, but it builds off our BankOnPurpose panel discussion on hiring and retaining talent at banks.

When it comes to hiring, training, leading, and ultimately helping employees - especially women - rise to levels of leadership, there are many aspects that come into play for banks. These include the bank's view on diversity and what women can do throughout their careers to build the confidence they need to rise to leadership.

In this episode, Katharine Briggs, EVP of Client Success, sits down with Maria Abbe to share her experience as a leader, both in the work place and in the community, and how women can work towards becoming leaders in their own organizations.




Helpful Information

Katharine Briggs - LinkedIn

Simon Sinek On Millennials In The Workplace

Podcast Transcript

Maria Abbe: Hi, and welcome to The Purposeful Banker, the podcast brought to you by PrecisionLender where we discuss the big topics on the minds of today's best bankers. I'm your host, Maria Abbe, Content Manager here at PrecisionLender. Katharine Briggs is joining us again in the studio this week. She's our EVP of Client Success.
At our BankOnPurpose conference this year, we held a panel discussion on hiring in which we talked about hiring, training, and leading teams of all-stars. The video of that discussion, it will be out soon, and it's definitely one you will all want to check out, but we wanted to continue that discussion here from a few perspectives. We want to continue to talk about what it means to be a woman in a leadership position, how women can rise to leadership positions, and how our current generation of young adults can build the confidence that they need in the workplace so that they can be seen as leaders as well. That's why we brought Katharine on, to continue that discussion.
Katharine, do you mind kicking us off by sharing some of your experiences and giving us tips on how to be leaders in our organizations and how to build confidence?
Katharine B.: Sure. Tough topic. It's something I think about a lot. Like you, Maria, I'm still learning, sometimes changing my opinions and trying new approaches, but I'd be more than happy to share my personal experiences and observations, and I'm really eager to likewise hear how millennials view this challenge.
To start off, by any measure, everyone knows women are underrepresented in the C-suite ranks. The number moves around a bit, but today about two dozen women run Fortune 500 companies, or about 4%. We were at 3% of women CEOs in 2010, so this number is persistently low. If we include the top five positions in publicly traded companies, CFOs, COOs, and so on, we're still only in the low teens in terms of female representation.
Maria Abbe: Wow. Now, I don't think we should define success as being measured by snagging the CEO seat of a company, but that is jarring to hear that, just over half of the US population being female, those numbers are still so low. How can less than 5% of Fortune 500 companies' CEOs be women?
Katharine B.: It's really complicated and a delicate topic to analyze, but let's start with how women often land in the corner office to begin with. Women are more likely to be offered the top job during times of a company crisis, which naturally makes it more likely that a woman would be in charge of an already troubled company. Not only do women get fewer leadership opportunities than men, but they're also often given different kinds of opportunities. Company boards tend to view women as having an optimistic nature and nurturing tendencies, all necessary to motivate employees and pull a high-risk company through a rough patch. When a board often thinks of crisis, they think of female as the Hail Mary solution in the CEO seat. In contrast to the term "glass ceiling," this is where you'll hear that term "glass cliff."
Maria Abbe: I've heard of the term glass ceiling before, but I haven't heard of glass cliff. Do you mind explaining what that is?
Katharine B.: Sure, Maria. I'm actually distressed to tell you that this is a Wikipedia entry and they've already got a definition.
Maria Abbe: Oh, wow.
Katharine B.: Yeah. Glass cliff is a term that describes the phenomenon of women in leadership roles being likelier than men to achieve leadership roles during periods of crisis or downturn where the chance of failure is the highest. Unfortunately, this glass cliff dynamic reinforces stereotypes that men are better leaders in the first place. The women leaders were set up to fail, and then they were blamed when the inevitable failure occurred. When a woman is forced off a cliff, it only confirms the belief that women aren't really good leaders anyway.
Let me give you a personal example. I was recruited for a C-suite spot at a publicly traded company about this time last year. This company had released their previous CEO and they were operating without a permanent leader. They were in crisis mode. I met with that board at length, and it became clear the company's strategy simply wasn't sustainable or appreciated by the analysts, certainly not at the size the company was. I chose to exercise my competence muscle instead of my overconfidence one, and I was really candid with my thoughts when I met with the board. In turn, I was not offered the position as CEO. Interestingly, no one was, and that company was merged into a larger competitor shortly thereafter.
In my opinion, at the time that I met with the board, there was no turning that company around, and had I been hired, I likely would've come out the other end of that process with my ego bruised and another mark against female CEOs.
Maria Abbe: Wow. That's fascinating. Now, obviously companies play a huge role in determining the laying of the groundwork for the level of diversity that they'll have, but let's talk about what we as women can do to rise to those leadership positions.
Katharine B.: Of course. Yeah, let's look at why women aren't succeeding as corporate leaders. One study posed this question, this very question we're talking about, and found that over 50% of women say it is due to lack of confidence, among some other reasons. Over 50% of women said lack of confidence.
Maria Abbe: Wow. Yeah.
Katharine B.: Then they asked men that very same question, "Why aren't women succeeding as corporate leaders?" Of the male respondents, only 18% cited confidence as a reason.
Maria Abbe: Wow.
Katharine B.: That's crazy.
Maria Abbe: Yeah.
Katharine B.: Women feel their lack of success is due to a lack of confidence over 50% of the time, but men believe that women lack confidence only 18% of the time. Men don't even notice that women lack confidence, whereas women find themselves paralyzed by it. A woman may feel like a fraud, but most men aren't picking up on it.
Maria Abbe: Wow. It sounds like what you're suggesting — well, I guess what the data is suggesting — is that confidence, it may be as important as competence. Competence comes with experience and education. How do you suggest a woman strengthens her confidence?
Katharine B.: Maria, my opinion is that you strengthen your confidence the same way you get better at anything, and that's through practice. Learn what your voice sounds like in a room with a dozen people listening. I say start small. Start in safe places. Speak up at church, a neighborhood book club. Join Toastmasters. I also believe there's a mind-body connection too, that physical activity, whether it's running or yoga or weightlifting, that also builds confidence.
Maria Abbe: Oh, yeah. I think that's a great point about the mind-body connection, especially as it relates to physical activity, because building physical strength builds confidence, eases stress, helps connect with others in our community, and ultimately makes us feel like we're a part of something bigger than ourselves. I lead a run club here in our community, and I know that when I'm in that position leading that group, I feel strong, confident, and connected with others, but then I try to take that and bring that into my own work.
Katharine B.: Awesome.
Maria Abbe: I know you do something similar too. Can you tell us about your early-morning, peer-led boot camps, Females in Action, or FiA?
Katharine B.: You know I love talking about FiA. FiA is a women's peer-led workout group. For us it brings together a lot of things, but two things in particular: public speaking and exercise. It brings it together into one package. When we're done with our workout, I believe we're sending women out into their day with a well-earned confidence boost and a sense of purpose, and all before 6:00 a.m.
Maria Abbe: That's early.
Katharine B.: Yeah. I'd encourage folks to do something a little bit outside of their comfort zone. Even if they fail, they'll notice that they're still breathing, their family and friends still love them, and the Earth continued to spin on its axis. The next time they take that first unknown step, it will be even easier. Everyone listening to this podcast has overcome something far more daunting than a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation. I'm not kidding. I will often think to myself, "If I can survive childbirth, marathons, breast cancer, I can surely take the risk of sharing my expertise on a client call."
Maria Abbe: That's a great point.
Katharine B.: Then, I guess my simplest piece of advice, because we're talking really high level here, a baby step, if you will, is to take Sheryl Sandberg's advice. Sheryl Sandberg wrote the great book Lean In. She recommends that women should sit at the conference table, not around the periphery. My advice is absolutely sit at the conference table, and while you're there, within the first five minutes of a meeting, make sure you say something. I'm not kidding. Truly say almost anything. Remark on the weather. Agree with an obvious point. Just say something.
The longer you go without hearing your own voice in a meeting, the more hesitant you become. Worse still, other participants at that meeting will soon skip right past you when they're making eye contact. You've become invisible. All of your competence, your skills, your talent are contributing nothing to the conversation, and that is solely your fault if that happens.
Maria Abbe: Yeah.
Katharine B.: What I'd love to hear, Maria — thanks for inviting me — is how do 20-year-olds view their prospects? How do millennials look at this? What do they view as the biggest challenges?
Maria Abbe: First of all, that's great advice about sitting at the conference table. I've actually seen that in my own life too. I've been in meetings where, if I don't pipe up at the beginning of the meeting, next thing you know, the entire hour has gone by and I haven't contributed anything because I'm too scared of the "What if?" "What if I'm wrong? What if I sound stupid? What if I have no idea what I'm talking about and everyone will see that?" Which I think then goes back to what you said about being a fraud. I know as a young adult woman I've struggled with confidence in the workplace really from day one, because I always felt like, "Well, you know, this is the first time I've done this, so no one's going to listen to me."
But I do remember when I first started out in my career, a male coworker actually took me out to lunch, sat me down, and said, "You're smart, you're educated, and we've hired you for a reason. Why aren't you confident?" I was like, "What the heck? Who would say that to somebody?" But from that moment on I became consciously aware of that. To your point, I think the lack of confidence stem from me telling myself, "I've never done this before, why would anyone listen to me?" I made it a point to nip that in the bud every time those fears pop up, which I think they pop up for a lot of people.
Back to your first question, for other 20-year-olds like myself, I think we've been lumped into this group of lazy, entitled, narcissistic millennials who are obsessed with social media and obsessed with ourselves. For some that might be the case, but I think for the majority, that's not always the truth. It's a challenge to overcome that stigma. My dad, he's a program manager. He has a team of engineers under him that he supervises, and the majority of them are millennials. He said he has yet to come across one lazy millennial. He said that they are some of the hardest working employees he's had.
Katharine B.: Totally agree.
Maria Abbe: But I also think we've been very fortunate as a generation. We've grown up with knowledge at our fingertips, and we want things too quickly. We want to be in a leadership position and we want to be making executive level type decisions at 24 years old, when in reality we just don't have enough experience yet, and that's okay. Simon Sinek gives a wonderful talk on millennials in the workplace, and he covers this very topic, which we'll link in the show notes. Going back to what I was saying, and he mentions this during the talk, we want things too quickly and forget that they come with time, and that's because we play this self-comparison game. "So-and-so is already leading a team. Why aren't I in that role? What am I doing wrong?" We either work ourselves to death to our own demise, really, to get there, or we beat ourselves up for not being there yet.
I think social media plays a huge role in that. I think that's a big challenge for us as young adults today. We want to make a huge impact and we want to make it now, but we really need to learn patience and that things take time and that we can make an impact in the positions and roles that we're in now, and then in time we'll become more confident in who we are.
Katharine B.: Agree. Maria, thanks for sharing that video. It was like a user manual for my teenagers. When I finished watching the video, I left thinking that confidence isn't just a woman problem, but women millennials may be doubly hosed without that innate sense of accomplishment previous generations have had. We've overcome challenges and we've failed at challenges and lived to see another day and we're learning from our mistakes. But when you give out awards for the ninth-place finisher, millennials may not have had those same opportunities to fail and to learn.
Unfortunately, same as previous generations, millennials still don't see enough women in leadership to model themselves after. When you pair together lack of confidence, overcoming obstacles, not seeing women in leadership, and then you add to that the fact that millennials aren't afforded typical relationship building opportunities that Gen X and baby boomers had — and by that I mean going out to lunch where nobody brings their device, playing golf, even just the pre-meeting chit-chat and so on. Because let's be really frank: Those relationship building opportunities is where you grow the network that will ultimately pull you up into leadership roles. Anyway, after watching that video, it's a steep climb for you all.
Maria Abbe: It takes time.
Katharine B.: Maria, this was a tricky conversation. I hope we navigated that mine field. I want to summarize. At the end of the day, I believe it's the combination of employers actively trying to change and improve diversity, as well as hardworking, accomplished, networked women putting themselves out there that will turn the tide.
Maria Abbe: Yeah. That's great. Thank you so much, Katharine, for coming on again and sharing all of that. I think that this will really be helpful. That will do it for us today. Thanks again for listening, everybody. If you would like to learn more or hear more, visit our resource page at If you like what you've been hearing, please make sure to subscribe to the feed in iTunes and SoundCloud and Google Play or in Stitcher, and we would of course love to get ratings and feedback on any of those platforms. Thank you for listening. Until next time, this has been Maria Abbe and Katharine Briggs, and you've been listening to The Purposeful Banker.

About the Author

Maria Abbe

As a Content Manager here at PrecisionLender, Maria develops the messaging, stories and content pieces for prospects and current clients – showing them the value in PrecisionLender. Her passion for serving others is evident as she leads the volunteer program here at PrecisionLender. Maria’s ability to be organized and constructive, along with her ability to be practical makes her an exceptional addition to our team.

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