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Coaching the Next Generation of Women Leaders

Research on job hunting habits indicates that women apply for fewer jobs than men. In a recent LinkedIn study, researchers found that women and men viewed a similar number of jobs and conducted research on the roles, but women applied for 20% fewer jobs than men.

Why is that? Is it a difference in self-confidence, comfort level with taking risks, or fear of failure?

A Harvard Business Review survey found that 46% of women and 41% of men said they chose not to apply for jobs if they felt they wouldn’t get the interview because they didn’t meet all the criteria. They didn’t want to waste their time.

However, 22% of women reported not applying if they thought they didn’t meet all the criteria and would therefore fail. Only 13% of men gave avoidance of failure as the reason.

Even in healthcare roles where females tend to occupy the majority, women have to be willing to push beyond the comfort zone and risk failure if they are going to move into leadership positions.

Cultivate and Elevate Your Team Members

This is where coaching can pay off. With turnover continuing to be a problem in healthcare, encouraging  women to stretch professionally can make the difference between keeping a high performer on your team and letting her move on to a different organization.

Even as Relias encourages clients to provide professional education for competency and discuss staff career paths, we practice what we preach with our own employees. Because Relias sees the value in cultivating female leadership, we have an internal employee group called the Relias Women’s Leadership Initiative (RWLI), which hosts events attended by females and males.

At a recent RWLI professional development session, a panel of professional athletic coaches shared their insights into fostering leadership skills in women.

Stretch and Strive for Successful Failure

Many of the coaches noted that fear of failure can hold females back from reaching toward their potential. Pushing your limits requires a willingness to fail more than once and to keep failing until you succeed, the coaches noted.

If women view the outcome of trying something new as pass or fail, panelist Christmas Abbott observed, they will limit themselves. Stretching to new professional and athletic heights requires a shift in perspective. Abbott’s philosophy is: “Every time I try, it’s a pass.”

Abbott is a cross-fit and weightlifting competitor and coach who is the author of The Badass Body Diet. She encourages what she calls “successful failure” when coaching someone. The key is to actually try—to push beyond your limits and then learn from the failure and try again. “Failure isn’t really failure unless you quit,” she asserted.

She and other panelists emphasized that every time you push yourself beyond your current limit, you are setting yourself up for success.

As a supervisor and coach, finding ways to motivate team members requires actively observing them, as RWLI panelist Erin Fines Crawford noted. With a master’s degree in health, exercise, and sports science, Crawford is a rugby player and the Fitness Director at the Carol Woods Retirement Community in Chapel Hill, NC. With her clients, Crawford has found that “where they get excited is where their motivation is.”

That excitement can also translate to a willingness to put in extra effort. Leaders who know how to tap into that excitement and motivate their staff, act as influential role models, consider the individual’s goals, and provide intellectual stimulation are transformational leaders. They create a climate that inspires greater commitment to the organization.

Goals Should Bubble Up Instead of Rolling Down

Commitment to the mission is vital for personal and professional growth. Panelist Taylor Adcock has been an international soccer player and currently coaches youth soccer. She notes that goals must come from the individual, not the coach. Then you will see buy-in and follow-through.

Working together as a care team requires shared commitment. Another panelist and Client Success Manager at Relias, Emily Hendricks, shared her insights from coaching young women on a national volleyball team.

She advocates setting goals as a team. She seeks ideas from everyone, and then the team narrows them down, agrees on the final goals, and signs them. If the team starts having difficulties, she reminds them of the goals they agreed to together.

Panelist and rock climbing coach Bradley Hilbert agrees that team decision making works better than a disciplinarian approach if you want to build a cooperative and committed culture. He learned that the hard way.

When some team members broke the rules and were not showing commitment to practice, he made a unilateral decision to kick them off the team. His team then boycotted practice, and he had to backtrack.

First, he apologized. Then he explained his reasoning. The team members decided to give him another chance. Hilbert’s team members said that when he apologized, it made all the difference in the world. They were ready to come together and work with him.

If you want team respect, you have to respect them. “You always have to tell them the reason for the decision,” Hilbert said.

For the team to work well, each member needs to know her or his role and what is expected in that role. “No matter what your role is, you need to do it well,” Adcock emphasized. That will make the group as a whole better.

Show Your Strengths and Go for the Gold

In teams, women face some of the same challenges on and off the field. “They may be viewed negatively for doing the same things a man would do,” panelist Teddy Calhoun observed. Based on his experience as a rugby and soccer coach and a business consultant, he has found that women respond when encouraged to go for what they want.

As the Relias course “Choosing to Lead as a Woman” notes, women often are encouraged to be modest. If you aren’t willing to demonstrate that you are good at something, it might keep you out of the action and prevent you from doing more of what stokes your spark.

Women in the workforce tend to be underestimated, Abbott observed, but they bring a valuable quality to their roles—finesse. Good supervisors and coaches can help women combine that finesse with assertiveness as they embrace new challenges.

When facing professional roadblocks, the sports analogy holds true. If you feel someone is trying to knock you down, you may have to go around them. “If they don’t knock you down, pivot,” Calhoun said. “You can still get to where you want to go.”

The panelists also emphasized the importance of support when a team member is ready to push individual limits and go for the gold. Because change isn’t easy, at some point, the individual will experience failure. To encourage growth, Crawford said, a good coach establishes trust and provides support throughout the situation.

Willingness to make a change at times can help you progress, Crawford acknowledged, but it is important to stay true to the core qualities that make you special. She pointed to a phrase she’s been hearing that resonates for women leaders in healthcare:

“Be the change, and bring someone with you.”


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