News & Insight
November 2002

Women in Line Management: Overcoming the Fear of Failure

For women as well as men, success as a line manager is often a prerequisite for advancement.

Running a profitable P&L is the red badge of courage in the corporate world. Until you've survived the battle of the marketplace, and made decisions in the midst of competitive crossfire, some would say you don't really belong in a position of leadership.

In most organizations men still hold the lion's share of line positions. This trend is slowly changing, to be sure. But according to Bill Morin and Janice Reals Ellig, co-authors of What Every Successful Woman Knows, women need to overcome their fear of failure in order to secure and succeed in positions of line management.

To a woman, the possibility of failing in a P&L job sounds like a career death knell. And given the obstacles women still face in the corporate world, can anyone say for certain that that's not the case?

Men, on the other hand, probably don't even consider the possibility of failure before they take on P&L responsibility. To them, it's just another step on the road to success. And if a man fails at a P&L job, he tends to regard the failure as something that just didn't work out, and hardly the end of his career.

By viewing line experience as just that -- a phase in their careers from which to learn as well as generate profits -- women can increase their chances for success.

To start gaining vital line experience, Morin and Ellig suggest women consider these five steps:

1. Focus on line responsibility. It's a question of mind-set: A way to think about yourself and your career in order to position yourself for seizing the right P&L opportunity. It may be necessary to relocate and take a salary cut. So what? If the opportunity is right, you will soon be able to have your pick of locations and your compensation will climb.

2. Get the skills and capabilities. When the opportunity presents itself, you're going to have to be prepared. Start now. Go back to school for a master's degree, take individual courses or attend workshops where you can augment your business knowledge. If it's a matter of personal style, consult with a business coach to strengthen your leadership and communications skills.

3. Broaden or create your opportunities. Keep your ear to the ground both inside and outside the corporation. Listen for deals you yourself can bring in and turn to your own advantage. If you're at a corporate function, use the social opportunity to introduce yourself to members of senior management; at charitable events, network to meet new people. You never know where your next career opportunity will come from.

4. Broadcast your availability and desire. You can't win by hiding in corporate closets. You've got to come out in the open to see and be seen. Get on your boss's calendar and let him or her know that you would like P&L responsibility -- as well as his or her support.

5. Think and act like a line manager. Stuck in a staff job? Manage it like a line job. In a line job? Act like a leader. Get your people to follow your lead, and soon your whole team will be partners in your ambition.

One more thing ... when you finally achieve your goal of running a P&L, remember the hard work it took and become a mentor to other women who share your ambitions.

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