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  • Writer's pictureSarah Carter

Your Worrier is Holding Back Your Warrior

Try saying, or typing that, 10 times fast! Not only is it a complete tongue twister, it's most likely true. If you (female or male) are trying to climb the ladder of your organization, having a risk factor of worrier could be holding you back from upward mobility in a big way. Reflect on recent feedback you've received from a co-worker or supervisor in a formal or informal way. Did any of these phrases come up: "stonewalls or fails to make timely decisions, performs unnecessary non-value-added tasks just to appease personal comfort level, over studies, is slow to act, [or] too risk averse" (pg. 60)? Or if we asked those you work with to characterize you would the say that you "resist change; have difficulty with multiple priorities; lack flexibility...freeze under uncertainty; fail to assert views; [or] avoid making decisions" (pg. 58)? These are all hallmark behaviors of those who have a worrier risk factor according to Nancy Parsons in her book Women are Creating The Glass Ceiling and Have The Power to End It.

What's a risk factor?

Right about now you're probably thinking "Jeez, Sarah, what's a risk factor? Sounds dangerous." Only dangerous if you let it remain in your blind spot (but more on that in my post coming July 28th). "Risk factors are ingrained, natural responses to stimuli that develop from infancy on up...[they] could also be called our 'ineffective coping responses' or 'derailers'" (pgs. xxi - xxii). Parsons's company, CDR Assessment group, Inc., created the CDR Risk Assessment tool to help people identify which risk factors they possess. There are 11 risk factors illuminated by the assessment (pg. xxii) and in a study Parsons, and her team, conducted of 137 women leaders and 126 male leaders from 35 North American Companies they discovered that "Women had statistically significant higher risk scores as 'worriers'" (pg. 6). This is what led to her work on unveiling the root cause of the glass ceiling.

Risk factors, and their associated behaviors, are what have the potential to hold you back from progression opportunities. Those actions, and inactions, discussed in the opening paragraph - risk adverse, failing to make timely decisions, resisting change, etc - are all behaviors of someone with a worrier risk factor. If you have been able to move up the leadership levels into the executive and C-Suite arena, odds are you have a mix of Egotist, Rule Breaker, and Upstager as your risk factors which are typically more characteristic of male leaders. These come with behaviors such as "takes credit for others' accomplishments, risks company resources, does not think through consequences, and dominates meetings and airtime" (pgs. 40 - 41). These may not have held you back yet but does any of this feedback sound familiar: "fails to comply with safety rules, puts personal agenda ahead of the needs of the team, pushes passionate point of view too hard, talks over others" (pg. 60)? Sound like your most recent 360 eval? You're not alone but you are now informed which is the first step to keeping the risks in check to continue to progress.

Let's get back to the ceiling

Yes, there are men with the worrier risk factor but statistically less than women according to CDR's research. The ineffective coping response of holding-one's-tongue or clamming up under pressure is such an ingrained response that it rears its vicious head in board rooms around the world. By not speaking up, making timely decisions, or saying what will please others rather than what is really on their mind, women are painting their own limits.

"Women are actually taking themselves out of the running for upward progression. No one is doing it 'to' them. Women are, in fact, creating the glass ceiling themselves because their Worrier risk factor behaviors are pulling them out of the running" pg. 9

I'd be remiss if I were to say that gender perceptions and bias does not play a part in stalling female career progression; that it's all because of our worrying tendencies. That's just not true. The perceptions of women who do make it to the higher levels of leadership, who share more prominently male risk factors, are often seen as more severe/harsh or negative then men with the same characteristics who may not be viewed negatively at all (pg. 48). I've seen this first hand but it is not as prevalent as the negative effects of the worrier behaviors. The worrier risk factor is much more common in female leaders in the lower and middle leadership ranges, the women trying to climb higher. Its these careers that get derailed because of worrier tendencies. The women who are viewed harshly and share more male dominant risk factors climb those ranks and meet resistance later.

Alright, so what do I do about it?

I'll be diving deeper into this question with some practical steps when I cover the second half of Women are Creating The Glass Ceiling and Have The Power to End It on July 28th. By reading this post and honestly reflecting on your most recent feedback from peers, direct reports, or superiors you've already taken the most important step. Recognizing "one's own risk in order to develop, neutralize, or manage them more productively" (pg. 40) is the starting point. The next step is for you to grab a copy of the book and gather some female leaders to share it with (men, maybe suggest it to some up and coming female direct reports or peers). "Women need to help each other stop resorting to these natural self-defeating and self-doubting tendencies and learn ways to...prevent Worrior behaviors from" (pg. 50) letting their inner career Warrior reign!

Get Connected

I'd absolutely love to hear your thoughts! On the book, on the CDR Assessment if you've ever taken it, similar assessments or feedback tools, really anything pertaining to this book and/or the glass ceiling. You can email me, leave some comments, or reach out on any of my socials. I'm also certain the CDR team would welcome your feedback too. Check out their site and drop them an email.

Next post is coming your way on July 28th. Until then, happy reading!

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