Michaela had a senior leadership position in the Perth office of a global engineering consultancy. She had been recruited into the management role after several years as an independent change consultant.
Late in 2011, Michaela attended the Women Presenting Powerfully Masterclass, a one-day workshop presented nationally by Executive Central’s Reyna Matthes and Helen Wiseman. That night an energised and excited Michaela put together her 2012 plans for her team. The next day Michaela was called to a meeting with her boss: she was to be replaced in her role.
“…he felt that while I had improved the capability and reputation of the team greatly, he didn’t see that I could make much more of an impact; that essentially I had exhausted my capability in that role. An alternate role would ‘be determined’ once we (I) found my replacement,” Michaela said.
Naturally she was stunned and experienced an, understandable, range of emotions, responses and questions.
Any career change, especially a forced change, brings up issues of self-worth, confidence and motivation, management of feelings, reactions and responses, and decisions to be made about career direction. Michaela’s attendance at Women Presenting Powerfully Masterclass the previous day proved fortuitous.
“It was the experience of the course that kept me level-headed, professional and motivated during that meeting…,” she said.
The solution for Michaela had already emerged in anticipation of the problem. The Women Presenting Powerfully Masterclass that she had attended is part of a suite of Executive Central’s workshops and coaching solutions specifically developed to support women in leadership roles.
The framework of these solutions is a strengths-based approach to work and leadership. The strengths-based approach to leadership is simple: Focus on your strengths instead of your weaknesses.
Michaela said she had been a classic case of a professional more focused on improving her weaknesses than leveraging her strengths.
Reyna says this is understandable because from an early age people are conditioned to focus on fixing our weaknesses, whether at home, school, sport or work.
“If your child brings home a school report with 5 ‘A’s and 1 ‘F’, which grade are you going to focus on? And it’s the same at work. We tend to put more effort into fixing our weak areas rather than leveraging our strengths. This can be a particular issue for women who rely on developing competency and mastery as a pathway to the top.
‘If I fix all my weak areas and am a flawless performer I’ll be promoted’.
Reyna Matthes notes the benefits of a strengths based approach:
“If you work from your strengths, you are tapping into your unique power source.” Maximising the skills and knowledge sets that you are really at home which means that you are operating from a zone of:
- Confidence, self-worth and resilience;
- Feeling ‘right’ within your own skin;
- Creativity and energy;
- Good decision-making;
- Greater risk readiness – working from your strengths gives you courage;
- Synergistic effects – cascading to home and family as well as work.
Outcomes and Benefits
Because of the insights gained in the Women Presenting Powerfully Masterclass, Michaela was able to manage a very professional transition out of her role, recruiting a replacement and supporting others in the company who were upset about the changes, while reflecting on what she really wanted for herself.
Michaela reflected on her strengths and what she had been able to accomplish in the role she was transitioning out of. She then decided to seize the opportunity to join another company in a senior role that was a perfect fit with her core professional strengths.
“The workshop came at just the right time for me,” she said. “I was able to put it all into practice straight away. In all honesty, I had probably been a bit lacklustre in my role for a couple of months. So I was able to reconnect with my strengths and could then apply them to the immediate challenges. I had the confidence to take a good look at my career and really think about what I wanted to achieve. I revisited past networks, roles and capabilities. . . I took on everything I absorbed from the Masterclass during this time. I also learnt about courage – that it’s OK to take a risk and fall over every now and then, because you are capable of getting back up.”
On leaving the global consultancy, Michaela commented:
“Today I am one day from finishing, and can now happily shake my boss’s hand to thank him for the jolt. Today, I am more excited about my next career move than I was with my 2012 plan.”