I’ve been writing about some common mistakes that women can make in business that keep us from achieving the results we want. The foundation of these missteps isn’t in failing to put in enough effort, but in putting in too much effort in the wrong places.
Power in the wrong place
This example from the Japanese sword art of Nakamura Ryu Batto-Do illustrates this principle of power in the wrong place quite well. Sensei David Drawdy demonstrated how not to perform a downward cutting technique called kirioroshi. Rather than his typical smooth, effortless, crisp cuts, he clumsily allowed the blade to scoop and bounce at the end of the cut. The proper way is for the blade float to smoothly, then stop absolutely and definitively when it reaches its destination. It shouldn’t recoil or jar.
As he allowed himself to awkwardly wield the blade, he said, “That’s wrong. That’s too much power in the wrong places.”
The problem, he explained, wasn’t that the technique was too powerful or too strong. It was powerful. The issue was that it was applied clumsily at the wrong times and in the wrong places. It would get only a fraction of the intended results, but with great effort.
It was applied clumsily at the wrong times and in the wrong places. It would get only a fraction of the intended results, but with great effort.
Mistake #2: The Hard-Work-Aloner
Mistake #1 is The Do-It-All. It’s dangerous and inaccurate to lump all women into a category. I repeatedly caution that my work requires generalizations, but as always, I’m not putting us all into this or any other box. With that preface, I see a lot of women fall into this pit.
The mistake here is the belief that if we just work harder, “they” – our superiors, business partners, clients and other influences – will see what we deserve and give it to us.
Researchers and authors who’ve studied wage disparity have found that women often believe that if they work hard enough, everything will fall into place. But that’s not how it works. As I’ve said in the past, Fairness is a Fairy Tale for Women in Business. Good work is not enough. Compared to men, women are far more inclined to believe that doing great work, in and of itself, enough to climb the corporate ladder. But men are better at building relationships with senior people, and networking within and outside of their organizations.
Success is not only about the caliber of your work. Establishing broad and deep professional relationships and playing by the interpersonal rules is at least as important. Whether we like it or not.
Swooning over an investor
Have you ever found yourself in a position like this? I was at a tradeshow a few years ago. As a marketing consulting, I was contracted to help a client with the show and staff the booth. There was an investor who had his eye on the company and was evaluating it for his firm. By the reaction of the men working the booth, you would have thought this guy was Bono or Arnold Schwarzenegger. Whenever he came by, they flocked to him and were eager to nod and smile in approval with his every word.
When he left, they clustered together and gushed with such remarks as, “That guy is smart,” and “I’d like to follow him around for one day and see what I could learn.” Who knew if the guy was smart or not? They didn’t, because they didn’t know him at all. They had never heard of him before the show. But they knew he was powerful. It didn’t seem to dawn on any of them that if they did find a major investor, it may not be the best thing in the world for their job security.
Their school-boy enthusiasm was silly, and I don’t advise the women (or men) reading this to model it, but their intentions were right. Powerful people can help your career. Connect with them. Show them how smart you are and what you have to offer.
Normal and extraordinary forces
It can be hard to accept, but extraordinary success lies in much more than exceptional work. This passage from Sun Tzu is one that I refer to frequently. I think the application for us is to know when to use our own or our team’s “extraordinary” forces. We all have a finite amount of energy to get us through the day. To always be at your best, and to experience exponential results, you can’t go it alone. You have to work with and leverage others, use your resources wisely, and apply assets in the right ways, at the right time.
Generally, in battle, use the normal force to engage and use the extraordinary to win. Now, to a commander adept at the use of extraordinary forces, his resources are as infinite as heaven and earth, as inexhaustible as the flow of the running rivers.