Book review – ‘How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back’

In ‘How Women Rise: Break the 12 Habits Holding You Back’, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith team up to write a new version of Marshall’s 2007 ‘What Got You Here Won’t Get You There’ examining the most common behaviours that can get in the way of future success for women.

Brought to life with examples and stories, the book examines the twelve habits with a chapter devoted to each that includes practical tools and suggestions. Using a mix of theory and examples, the book identifies behaviours that I see come up again and again in my own coaching work with senior women. Women with successful careers, who are starting to receive feedback that it is difficult for them to know how act upon – issues around having more impact, demonstrating more confidence, or having more gravitas. What I like about the book is that it unpacks these impressions that we can unwittingly create, and gets specific about tangible things to focus on so that people experience us differently.

Here are my top 5 habits to let go:

  1. Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements: Women often do a poor job bringing attention and visibility to their successes. They would like their good work to speak for itself, but in busy organisations it is unrealistic to expect this.
  1. Overvaluing expertise: Overly focusing on your expertise may end up keeping you stuck in the job you have. If you want to progress you need to invest in building relationships and visibility within the organisation. You may have to be brave about engaging with others while you are still learning or let go and leverage the expertise of others.
  1. Minimising: Are you making yourself smaller either literally by the way you sit around the table or by taking a seat at the back? Do you use minimising language – apologizing when you haven’t done anything wrong or using words like ‘just’, ‘only’, ‘small’, and ‘quick’, as in ‘I just have one small thing to add…?’. Do you use ‘we’ so often that people don’t understand what your role was in a specific effort?
  1. Too Much: In meetings and presentations do you take too much time to get to the point? Do you preface a suggestion with a lot of background? Or offer multiple rationales and examples? Try to pare everything down by thinking through in advance what matters most. Can you force yourself not to speak first in the silence after you have made your point? Maybe a trusted colleague can help?
  1. Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships: while women are often excellent relationship builders they can be noticeably reluctant to leverage those relationships. Most great careers are built not just on talent or hard work, but on the mutual exchange of benefits. There are many reasons this might apply to you – often it is connected to an aversion to be seen to be ‘using’ someone. But if you refuse to leverage the relationships you’ve built in pursuit of your goals, you will diminish your ability to reach your full potential.

Whether for your own development or to enrich conversations when coaching other women, ‘How Women Rise’ is an inspiring and practical resource. All twelve habits are well worth a read, and the examples bring to life the many ways these behaviours can get in the way and the different experiences senior women have had in responding to them. And crucially, the last section of the book is a great primer on change – how to take that first step and how to sustain the effort over time.




Karen Falcocchio is an Executive Coach with the Executive Coaching Consultancy. 




This issue in a snapshot:



Visit Our Blog ›