Tuesday, March 26, 2013

What Really Stands in the Way of Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling?

In a nation where it is stated ‘all men are created equal’, it would seem impossible to have glass ceilings. Yet, every year there are articles and workshops designed to help women and minorities breakthrough this insurmountable threshold. 

Since I would be considered a minority, I have a license to speak openly about this topic. Perhaps I have a
skewed perspective. However, I think everyone should consider more than one viewpoint before they assign fault to any party.

I recently saw a movie titled Margin Call. The movie appeared to be about Bear Sterns just before it fell apart. In the movie, a guy was working on a formula which identified the potential loss the brokerage firm would face if the mortgage back securities lost value. When an analyst realized they were 2 weeks past the critical point of failure, he warned his manager immediately. Between 11:00pm and 6:30am, the manager, CEO and his direct reports were meeting and discussing next steps.

Throughout the movie a number of very tough decisions were made. And those choices were said to be in the best interest of the organization.

While I have no interest in approving or disapproving the decisions made, there is a much bigger point. The movie was about how leaders lead. Anyone can lead in good times. What do you do when faced with chaos? That is when you see the true colors of leadership.

What does this have to do with glass ceilings? Everything! Most people spend their lives looking for nirvana. People talk about how they want everything around them to be harmonious. At the same time, when chaos shows up, those same people get upset and lose focus.

The higher up the ladder one rises in business or politics the greater the chaos. Therefore, high-level positions can create an unsolvable problem for most people. In order to break through the glass ceiling, you have to be effective at handling problems. To handle problems effectively, you cannot see yourself as a victim. If you do, you are sure to fail.

Too often women and minorities believe when they face a hard time it is due to discrimination. As a result, they spend more time focusing on what’s wrong and why they are being victimized.

If, on the other hand, they spent time training and developing themselves to handle anything, disruptions would no longer be chaotic. They would only occur as event that happened. At that point, the only focus would be what’s missing and what needs to happen to fulfill what’s missing.

In the movie I saw, when the CEO realized the enormity of the problem, he only focused on what had to be done to solve or alleviate the imminent disaster. The decisions he made were urgent and difficult. To an observer, it may have seemed that he had innate talents. Except, that would be false. Exceptional leaders who do well in chaos have developed themselves in advance.  

With that said, once you are prepared for the highest levels of leadership, you will realize that the glass ceiling has not existed in the 21st Century. Therefore, the glass ceiling is in your mind and the only thing holding you back is you and your mindset. When you complain about a glass ceiling, you have presupposed that there is something wrong. That mentality can set you up to see yourself as a victim in an unsolvable situation. And you will spend all of your time looking for proof of victimhood, instead of solving the dilemma. 

If you aspire to reach higher levels in your career, focus on developing a new mindset and behaviors. Why? Because knowledge never shapes actions. Actions are shaped by behavior and the mental models you possess – inherited.

What beliefs and behaviors are you willing to let go of?

Let today be your first day to become the person you always wanted to be.    

What do you think? I’m open to ideas. Or if you want to write me about a specific topic, let me know. 


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