Where does your glass ceiling reside?
Leaders, you may be holding yourself back...
When I started in the US Fire Service I couldn’t imagine a female firefighter. This may seem odd in 2014, now that we see women firefighters every day, but in that day they didn’t exist. Was there discrimination? Absolutely. But the problem was bigger than that. Since there were virtually no female firefighters, young girls (even savagely athletic ones) had no image in their minds of a girl such as them being able to succeed in this occupation. In 1986, I remember reporting to my newly assigned fire station and in walked Barbara Behm, a confident, strong, and very capable firefighter. She shook my hand with a clear purpose to let me know she did not expect any special accommodations because she was fully capable of doing her job.
Within two years, I remember helping hundreds of female firefighter candidates prepare for our very challenging physical ability test and by 1990 we had over 50 female firefighters on our job. This year, one of those female firefighters was named as the Fire Chief of the Phoenix Fire Department. The glass ceiling is often defined as that invisible barrier that keeps women and minorities from reaching the top levels of their organization. In this case, the glass ceiling was shattered.
There is no doubt that prejudice and injustices do exist, and these often make it very difficult for women leaders to achieve their full potential, but another invisible barrier is equally as responsible. This is your own self-image. Just as young female firefighters couldn’t see themselves as successful firefighters, many female executives I have worked with struggle to see themselves holding senior, highly influential, powerful positions. Some of this is because there aren’t that many role models, although this is quickly changing. But I have found that the bigger hurdle is the image we have of ourselves.
For human beings it's virtually impossible to outperform our own self-image. At the same time, we are the only species on earth that has the ability to consciously and purposefully design our own self-image. Unfortunately, most of us will leave it to default. This means it is unconsciously created by all of our experiences, the things others tell us, and our memory of our own failures. This means there is another glass ceiling residing in our own mind.
Take a little time to create a clear, emotionally meaningful, tangible, powerful self-image. It's probably one of the most important contributors to having external gravitas.
·Start with the beginning; I am ………. Go ahead and dream a little. See yourself walking in as CEO and see how you interact with those around you.
·See yourself standing tall and discussing the challenges your organization faces.
·See yourself coming home at the end of the day and being fully engaged with your family, friends, or hobbies.
·Once this image is clear, revisit it as often as possible.