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Who's in charge of making you a leader?

The following post is contributed by Joyce Maroney, Executive Director of the Workforce Institute at Kronos.  It was originally published on

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a claim: Not all people are alike, and not all people want the same things at work, including senior leadership positions. Doesn't sound so controversial, right? But what if I replace "people" with "women"? Did you start making some assumptions about what might be different for women at work?

Global research conducted by Grant Thornton in 2016 determined that just 24% of senior management roles were held by women, with 33% of responding organizations having no women in senior leadership at all. With so many decades of progress behind us when it comes to civil rights and women's educational attainment, why do these differences persist? Given the evidencethat more diverse leadership generates better results for organizations, why don't they try harder to move women into management?

I've been thinking about this for a few days, since I read this article by Heidi Kasevich, Ph.D., titled "Gender & Temperament: The One-Two Punch That Can Hold You Back." In it, she says that "although 50 percent of the workforce self-identifies as introverts, 96 percent of leaders and managers self-identify as extroverts. Whether we acknowledge it or not – whether our biases are conscious or implicit – we are living in society that privileges the male extroverted leader: masculine, alpha, gregarious, and bold." Kasevich goes on to discuss how women are less likely to achieve leadership positions because women who exhibit take-charge behaviors may be labelled in negative ways (bossy, demanding, rude) while their male peers demonstrating the same behaviors are more likely to be seen as leadership material. She concludes that organizations need to nurture quiet leaders as well as they do those who fit the prevailing extroverted model.

There is much of her argument that I agree with, but I believe also that the things that can hold us back at work are more nuanced than gender and temperament. I don't disagree that organizations need to cultivate talented female employees for leadership positions. As a woman in the workforce for the last 40 years, I understand the special challenges that women face at work. I firmly believe, however, that the path to leadership begins with the individual –and not with the organization coaxing him or her out of their shell.

There are lots of reasons that people who aspire to leadership don't advance to leadership positions. Some are legitimate: The next step position isn't available in the organization, or the person hasn't acquired sufficient skills yet. Some aren't: Bias, favoritism and other factors certainly hold some people back. Men and women can struggle to position themselves as leaders among their peers for a variety of reasons.  I think there are lots of things that organizations can do to identify, support and develop leadership talent, but I don't think anyone becomes a leader by waiting for somebody else to make that happen.

For those who do want to position themselves to develop as leaders, here are my recommendations:

• Start by getting clear on your goals when it comes to leadership. Talk to people inside and outside of your organization to understand the implications of assuming bigger leadership roles. Does the time and effort required fit into your overall work-life plan?

• Make your aspirations clear to your manager and other stakeholders who might be able to help you progress. Be specific about the work you want to do.

• Do an outstanding job in your current role – and be prepared to demonstrate your ability to take on additional responsibilities. I've seen plenty of people get frustrated by this one, feeling it was unreasonable to assume more responsibility without a title change and/or pay increase. You need to look at this as a pilot period to prove your ability to make a bigger impact.

• Make sure you get credit for your results. I've done plenty of projects where my focus on achieving the best team outcome didn't include promoting my personal contributions. There can be a fine line between confidence and hubris, but you have to navigate that path if you expect to be rewarded for your contributions.

• Know your worth in the market. Join professional organizations that help you understand what other professionals in your role are doing – and how they are compensated. Keep your LinkedIn profile current, and if you are contacted by a recruiter, do a little probing to understand the value of your skills.

• Be prepared to make big changes. Your next step may not be within your current organization. And no matter how much you love your current job, you may have to go elsewhere to acquire new skills and responsibilities.

I'm interested in your recommendations.  What have you done to ensure your career is on a track that works for you?

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