by Ellen M. Snee, EdD
A book review of Ellen Snee’s new book about women in charge and what they need to tackle specific challenges of leadership most vital for success.
If there was one book that I would love to have read about 20 years earlier, it would be “Lead — How Women in Charge Claim Their Authority” by Ellen M. Snee. If I had I am sure I wouldn’t have doubted myself as much as I did. Having professional grown in a male dominated insurance sales environment I faced many obstacles to eventual becoming recognized for my skills and hard work and I am still learning.
Ellen M. Snee dedicated her life to service, first as a nun and later at the forefront of women’s leadership development. For more than 25 years, she worked with fortune 500 companies, such as Pfizer, Apple, VMware and many more. Her book is based on her long corporate and consulting experience and promises a guidance to readers through specific challenges of leadership most vital for success.
A serenity prayer hanging on the wall in the kitchen of the author’s childhood home introduces the reader to Ellen M. Snee’s essence. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” (p15). Drawn to the courage part to change the things that she can, she went on to change the life of numerous women over the course of her career. I have never heard of that prayer before but in my mid-twenties at a point of being nearly burnt out and constantly stressed I had an epiphany about the exact same thing. As way too often, I was late for work, driving too fast when a car appeared in front of me. It was moving just below the speed limit. For me however, that was too slow. I had no chance of overtaking and I grew so agitated that I was about to hit the pedal to push that car of the road. In that very moment, I had an insight similar to that prayer: Accept things you can’t change and change things you can. This insight had a profound impact on me. I immediately relaxed and I have never been stressed again due to slow moving traffic or of other things that I was not in control of. It helped me to overcome some of my first challenges in my career.
Ellen M. Snee dedicates a whole chapter to develop what she calls internal resilience. Yet again, I remembered my own learnings when I read about the importance of Self-Concept: “We too play a role when we take on a position of authority. Like good actors, we must invest time and energy to grasp the role and play it fully. Acting with authority sometimes means acting the role even when you don’t feel the part.” (p41). I struggled with self-doubt for a long time but at some point, I changed my attitude towards work. Instead of thinking work is my life line I started to see it as a game that I was playing just like when I was a kid. A game that I would like to succeed by contributing towards reaching the best results. My self-confidence increased along with the fun while working and most importantly, colleagues and senior management started listening to me.
Listening is important and the author reminds the reader to watch out for what you are telling yourself. She guides through a three-step process to retrain the inner voices and helps to shed light about guilt and imposter syndrome which “…are forms of self-criticism.” (p.53). This book would certainly helped me to keep more upbeat when I had experiences of self-doubt, self-blame and negative self-talk.
There is whole chapter about “Women in authority over other women”. It didn’t occur to me that there is a lot to learn about relationships between women in the workplace. While I did have my challenges in the past, I would never consider these related to the other person being a woman. Based on her research, Ellen M. Snee arrives at “… a potential psychological dimension of authority for women. Women have unspoken, and even unacknowledged, expectations of other women that appear rooted in identity, rather than role, and when those expectations are not met, self-doubt and self-criticism follow.” (p.67)
Reflecting on my own experiences, I could see a lot of parallels in my own career whereas female colleagues were sometimes harder to work with than male colleagues. An area that I have overlooked so far yet appears to have a huge impact on how I as a woman exercise authority.
How often do you use the word “we” and “I”? In the chapter about executive presence, the author uncovers that female leaders are often shy of taking credits for themselves for what they have done. A case study about Nancy who has a hard time with a co-lead male colleague represents in my experience a true reflection of a typical workplace. This reminds me of a great piece of advice I once received from a colleague who suggested to make sure that in every meeting you say one thing that make you stand out so that the attendees will notice your personal contribution to the success of the meeting.
There are many more of these nuggets of invaluable insights, tips, experiences and case studies that I either can relate to or have learned by reading this book. The best is that after each chapter, Ellen M. Snee provides a short summary with the most important points and “Do the Work” items to help the reader taking on their challenges which makes the book also a practical resource that you want to keep close.
In summary, topics such as building resilience, inner authority, effective communication, money management, career conversations, organisational relationships and many references to everyday situations in organisations make “Lead — How Women in Charge Claim Their Authority” by Ellen M. Snee a must read for every woman who has the courage to change the things she can.
While I have not known the third part of that serenity prayer mentioned above, it is now time for me to focus on further develop how to recognize the difference what I can change and what I better accept. I start with my biggest learning yet from this book: As a woman I don’t have to change myself to be successful in roles of authority but I can change the way I behave.
For more information about “Lead — How Women in Charge Claim Their Authority” by Ellen M. Snee, EdD please visit the author’s website at www.ellensnee.com