Charles Good on Habits of Female Leaders

As you achieve higher levels of success, the more likely the problems that are holding you back are behavioral. However, men and women often suffer from different behaviors that are holding them back. So what are the habits holding female leaders back?

In her book How Women Rise, Sally Helgesen identifies twelve common behaviors that commonly hold women back. The following are three of the most common ‘must stop’ habits that routinely impede women as they rise higher in their organization.


A common mistake by some women is assuming if they do a great job in their current role, then they will be promoted to the next higher position.

Key Insight: By being excellent in your current role, you could be strengthening the argument to be kept in your current role. In other words, you are making yourself more irreplaceable in your current job.

You need to build networks and powerful alliances with senior leaders that will help you later on. As Sally Helgesen mentions, “top leadership roles are more about the potential for the next level of responsibility than management of the current level of responsibility.”


No one can be everything to everybody. By saying ‘yes’ to every request, you need to realize what you are saying ‘no’ to. It also leaves you open to manipulation by others, since you are motivated by the desire to be helpful and not let down others.

Key Insight: Even though your plate may be full, it will probably not be full of meaningful work that is important to you.

This desire to help and please others may have served you well in the past. However, as you reach higher leadership ranks it will diminish your leadership effectiveness by causing you to focus on nonessential, non-important things. Be clear on what is most important to you and focus on those things that will showcase your leadership ability.


As you are building your reputation and moving up in the organization, striving for perfection undoubtedly has aided your efforts. But as you move higher, it will cause more stress and pressure and keep you fixed on details, distracting you from focusing on the bigger picture.

Key Insight: Perfectionists struggle with delegation since their standards are unlikely to be met by others. This result is micromanaging others and doing too much.

To overcome this habit, you will need to get comfortable delegating less important tasks and responsibilities. Remember, perfect is the enemy of good.

Everyone has a TO-DO list filled with what needs to get done every day. For many, it helps them stay organized and efficient. But hopefully, you also realize now the importance of having a TO-DON’T list of behaviors to stop. If the three habits mentioned here are not issues for you, then spend some time to identify what are the habits holding female leaders back, like yourself.

Remember to start with one habit at a time and break it down into small behaviors. And finally, don’t try to do it alone. Always try to enlist the help of others.

For additional resources check out my podcast with Sally Helgesen, or last week’s article on additional habits that may be holding you back.


Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.

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