Every time I get the chance to hear Carmen Voilleque speak, she says something that makes the hair on my arms stand straight up. It is no coincidence that she and her business partner, Randy Harrington, co-wrote the book Evolutionaries. To me, Carmen is my most evolutionary friend. Her mind functions on such a meta level and yet, her commentary and observations are always beautifully succinct while also deeply profound.  Carmen and I became fast friends due to our deep love of supporting and developing women leaders.  I was lucky enough to be able to interview her for my book, Road Rules for Leading Ladies. I can’t wait to share her laundry list of the top 10 challenges that she says women must overcome in order to continue to soar in the business world today:

1. Women vastly under estimate their influence

Consider how high/low your ability is to change your circumstance?

2. Women wait too long to be an expert in the room

I see women defer to superiors or more experienced peers for much too long in their careers. Once you have achieved that seat at the table, make the assumption that you belong there. Men in business are experts at the game of bullshit. They have a knack for convincing anyone and everyone that they are right – even when they are dead wrong. Trust yourself. Speak up. Believe that what you have to say matters and that people should listen to you.

3. Mid level managers & executives often fall into the trap of ‘mama bear’ management: saving people vs. developing people

8/10 execs fall into this trap.

Through struggle, the greatest development occurs.  This is hard for female managers to watch.  Their instinct is to swoop in and save, versus teaching agency.

Beware of the powerful impulse to be parental in your management. As a manager, it is not your job to guard, defend and protect.

Women don’t want to see people suffer. Yes, you should use your role as a manager to remove key roadblocks, but you should not also remove all speed bumps, slippery roads, and terrain that may call for 4-Wheel drive while you are at it. A little struggle can go a long way when it comes to employee leadership development.

As a manager, your must support, challenge and nurture.

Ask yourself, what role does suffering play in your management style?

Women who are great at swooping in and protecting, often earn a reputation as “territorial”, “defensive”, or “reactive”, and are then sent people and problems by the organization that should most often be solved lower down the ranks among the employees involved, through guided struggle. . You become known as a “Dragon Lady” – and sending conflict your way guarantees drama and entertainment for those less courageous in the organization. But your warrior-like “mama bear” antics, while exciting to watch, end up creating dysfunction in the organization and more and more people shirk their responsibility to solve problems and resolve conflict on their own.  Sure, you save the day and efficiently solve problems, but in this noble effort, you end up stifling the development of leadership and influence qualities in the people around you.

Our capacity for compassion as women is our greatest strength, but women must be cautious not to let it become their Achilles heel. It is really difficult for these women not to defend their territory versus viewing the conflict situation as an opportunity for teaching and development.

It’s critical to adopt a meta view point of your stake in the company: “What’s good for this organization? How can we use instances of conflict to teach our staff to be more confident, courageous, and strong?

4.  Women do not reach out and accept offers of assistance and mentorship

Why? Many believe they have to be perfect.

And many had to be warriors to get there and then they don’t know how to be vulnerable.

A male CEO I work with that is widely regarded in his industry and often interviewed in trade magazines and business news once said to me, “The best leaders have coaches.”  He has a coach, and he is not afraid to talk about it openly. I have seen him say in Board meetings, “That is a good point, I’ll make a note to talk it over with my coach next week and get back to you.” He is unashamed about it. What he understands is that no matter how high you go in your career and no matter how experienced and recognized you are – you always need an objective “sounding board” for your ideas, plans and challenges. I see women managers and executives being offered coaching opportunities by their organizations and they more often than not turn it down. They say something like, “I don’t need coaching.” Or, “Is this some sort of comment on my performance?” they get defensive instead of jumping at the chance for professional development and improvement. This is a big mistake.

5.  In a down economy, the ‘boys club’ heightens and takes over even more power. Women underestimate this phenomenon.

In a land of scarcity, we get even more protective. The good ol boys look out for their own more than ever. Thus, we have to be more proactive in building our network.

6.  Women are not entrepreneurial enough both inside and outside of companies.

We have not been in the game long enough.  Thought we do have advantages.

Women are much more sensitive to the realities of the work/life blend. When we start new companies, they reflect that reality. And this is much more attractive to the next generation of talent – both men and women. Women have a jump on the competition when it comes to building business environments that will attract the next generation of talent.

Women are doing a tremendous amount of work in improving customer welfare (Community responsibility as a priority over profits).

Be Unconventional. When we live a life circumscribed by the expectations of others we lead a limited life. The greatest gift that you can give yourself is the permission to be different. Let go of your need to have everyone you love or care about understand your life choices. If you are truly going to fulfill your highest potential in your life and work, you will have to push boundaries, challenge notions of “acceptable behavior”, make mistakes and redefine the very notion of success as we know it. Meeting the expectations of those around you might feel nice, but it will also mean falling far short of your greatest capabilities and passion.

Women need to absolutely strive to be unconventional.  Consider whether you want to live within the confines that the person you are choosing to spend your life with lives by?

 7. Discover your life’s work

Passion is what makes us  brave and magnificent. Being truly courageous comes from caring about something deeply enough to sacrifice ourselves. So when you go in search of our passion, don’t ask “What do I like doing?” or “What gets me excited?”  insteak ask:  “What am I  willing to suffer for? (= not get paid for) The answer to this single  question will point to your life’s work. This is the place that you will make the most difference in the world and have the courage to do what it takes to leave a legacy for generations to come.

8.  Commit to becoming a strong public speaker

Just because you are uncomfortable speaking publicly does not mean you have the option to not become a stronger public speaker.  This is a skill you must master. Hire a coach, do whatever you have to in order to better yourself.

  9. Be an ally for other women

In 8-9 years we are going to see a lot of women headed into C-suites, as many men who are retiring are more willing to appoint a women as successor. Look for men who champion this evening of the playing field – there are a good number of men out there who care about inequality. Inequality is not just a women’s issue, it is a community issue. Look for the fathers, brothers, husbands, bosses and colleagues out there who care about equality of women just as much as we do. Find them, and make friends.

10.   The #1 most powerful tool is the power to ASK QUESTIONS

Women don’t ask enough questions. Triple the amount that you ask. Whether you are a new employee at the bottom of the organizational chart or the CEO, I guarantee that you are not asking enough questions. In fact, the higher we progress in our careers, the less we seem to ask. But asking questions is the number one way that you can obtain information – especially negative information. And we need negative information. The better you are at encouraging negative information to flow upward the better you will be at troubleshooting customer and employee problems, heading key complaints off at the pass, and preempting destructive conflict in your organization.

Be future oriented.

Believe in your agency to influence even if you are a glass half empty type of person.

Whether you are a “glass half empty” or a “glass half full” kind of personality the key to success is a belief in agency – in your power to change the future and your role in it. Whether an optimist or a pessimist, a “Pollyanna” or a “Realist” – the most successful people in world are those that operate under the assumption of “High Agency”. Believe in your ability to influence others, change your situation, and improve the future.


Thank you so much Carmen!  To learn more about Carmen’s work, go to Strategic Arts and Science.

We want to know if these challenges resonate with you and how you are working to champion them at your workplace?