In all the coaching we do with executive women, one of the most common questions we are asked to address is, how can women best adapt to a new role in upper management? How can they “fit in”?
The underlying issue is simple: You have to fit in, be accepted, and follow the lead of others before you can make changes. Men in the corporate world have been adapting to the environment for generations, but women are still relative newcomers to the middle and upper reaches of corporate America. How do they make the transition?
In their book, What Every Successful Woman Knows, Janice Reals Ellig and Bill Morin identify six steps that executive women can take to smooth their acceptance into upper management:
1. Classify the organization. What type is it? Is it analytical or driven? Traditional or innovative? Some set of common attributes gives this organization its particular character. Go beneath the surface to type your own organization.
2. Read the leadership style. What are the practices of the organization's leaders? Are they autocratic or more consensus-oriented? What behaviors do they value and reward in people?
3. Read the operating style. How do people interact – and how do things get done? Is the management style open or do people work in silos? How political is the organization?
4. Read the personality. What are the unwritten rules and group dynamics that give the organization its specific temperament and tendencies? Corporate personalities can range from shoot-from-the-hip “gunslingers” to more conservative, methodical types.
5. Assess your fit with the corporate culture. Is it a fit? Do you match well with the organization's type, leadership style, operating style, and personality? Are you right for this organization? Can you adapt?
6. Develop and execute a plan. Commit to make yourself a part of this organization's machinery, an individual valued by the leadership, someone who interacts successfully to get things done in the organization, someone whose personality is in tune with the organization's personality.
Fitting in is as much an art as a skill. You'll need a bit of both to succeed in becoming part of the organization. Once you do, you can create an audience; then, when you have the organization's full attention, you can change the rules.