The game of business is designed by men, and women leaders must work harder to get promoted and recognized. This is an unfortunate fact, but until there is equality in the workplace, women must act differently than their male counterparts in order to get ahead. Some of the most significant ways female leaders can get ahead is to stop some of their current behaviors. Moving up does not mean doing more; in fact, it means doing less and kicking those gender-norms to the curb. Read on for four things to stop doing as a female leader looking to rise in the ranks. 

Stop Saying Yes

Many women have difficulty saying no, and many who do say no are consumed by guilt. It’s time to stop feeling guilty and to only say yes to the things that truly matter and excite you. So often we say yes before fully analyzing the commitment, and this can lead to being over-committed and overwhelmed. Prioritizing what you say yes and no to is key as female leader with limited extra time. Remember that every time you say yes to something, you’re also saying yes to much more. Before you do say yes, first sit down with a pad and pencil and list all those additional things you’re taking on by saying yes. What does chairing that committee truly mean? How much travel does that new project entail? Taking on projects and opportunities is part of growth and moving up in a company, but you don’t want to take on so much that you can longer execute to the best of your ability. Saying yes to two things and doing them incredibly well is much better than saying yes to five things and not giving your all because you were spread in too many directions. 

Additionally, because many of the tasks you are saying yes to are not valued in terms of promotion or revenue, you are not really helping yourself by doing more. Tanya Tarr, expert on gender in the workplace, shares that “Experiments by workplace consultants show that in mixed gendered groups, women tend to be asked and volunteer for what they call ‘low promotability’ tasks like writing a report, serving on a committee or organizing an office party. These actions help the organization overall but are not valued in the same way that high promotability tasks – like revenue-generating activities – might be valued.” If you do say yes, focus on saying yes to the activities that will bring you recognition and new opportunities. If a task won’t do at least one of those things say no. 

Stop Doubting Yourself

The first step in getting over your self-doubt is acknowledging that you are experiencing it. Sharing your feelings with other trusted colleagues may provide useful insight and show you that you are not alone. Your colleagues most likely feel the same way and discussing these common experiences will help you put less weight on them. Additionally, your colleagues will probably share how competent and strong they believe you are. Getting a positive boost can go a long way in upping your self-confidence. So, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable; in fact, it’s a key leadership skill so you might as well start practicing now.

Walking into rooms strongly and not second-guessing your contributions will help you confirm your seat at the table. Externally you will exude confidence, and internally you will fake it until you make it. Workplace consultant Janet Iolirecommends a wonderful reframing practice to combat the negative thoughts that we can become trapped by. She shares, “The thought ’I should know more’ becomes ‘What other information do we need to get here?’ and ‘They must think I am incompetent’ becomes ‘What will constitute success?’ When you recognize the self-criticism that paralyzes action and reframe it into impersonal questions, you move from having your ego be at the center to a place of finding objective solutions.” Next time you catch yourself spiraling into self-doubt thoughts, try reframing and asking neutral questions.  

Stop Putting Yourself Last

We are used to putting ourselves last as female leaders. We will stay late at work to finish a project for our team, and then will skip a workout in order to get home and spend quality time with our children. Between the different roles that all female leaders play (employee, manager, spouse, mother, daughter, friend), it can feel selfish to take even a small amount of time to ourselves. This treadmill of tasks, however, is hindering our leadership ability. You need space in order to recharge and keep your creativity intact. The constant run of to-dos at work and home leaves little mental space for creative thinking, which is critical to innovation. Finding time to simply sit and think (I like to take Clarity Breaks), can be extremely beneficial. 

Taking care of yourself can come in many forms, and it doesn’t need to include a complete overhaul of your life or take over your calendar. Even small changes will create big results. Try cutting out sugar, abstaining from alcohol during the week or taking a walk during your lunch break. These are all small things that add up to a much healthier you, and this better version of you will create better results. “There are a number of dysfunctional workplace dynamics that can emerge when leaders feel rundown, exhausted, or emotionally drained,” shares Patrick Hyland, Ph.D. “We’ve found that overwhelmed managers are significantly less likely to recognize and praise their direct reports, and colleagues have found that the way leaders cope with their stress trickles down, impacting their employees’ own work experience and stress levels. If you’re chronically stressed at work, it’s time to stop buying into the myth that leaders and managers must be selfless martyrs. You’re putting your own health and well-being, along with your team’s effectiveness and engagement, at risk.” The message is clear: taking care of your company and family means taking care of yourself first. 

Stop Doing it Alone 

Even the best leaders need help, and in fact, knowing when they need help is what makes them so effective. Asking for help from your colleagues or the employees you manage allows them to contribute and is actually a gift; they might not get this opportunity if not for you, and they can participate in the work as a teammate, not a follower. “When delegating, take a look at your team and assign tasks to whoever has the greatest number of relevant skills for that task. It seems like an obvious choice, but too many leaders delegate to whoever has the lightest workload or is the most convenient,” says Jayson DeMers, Founder and CEO, AudienceBoom.

I encourage delegating things at home as well. Most likely you know someone who would want to do that task you hate or would at least be better suited for it. Think about what you make per hour and contribute to the company- is this really something worth your time or are you better off asking for help/ paying for someone else to do it? Delegating things at home can also help you spend more quality time with family and friends. Delegating at home leads to more rest, more time for relationships, less guilt and better results. Again, ask yourself if you would pay someone what you make per hour to clean the house or go grocery shopping. If not, outsource it. 

Female employees will rise to leadership levels by doing things that may seem counter-intuitive at first. They must stop doing things our gendered society has taught, including to stop saying yes, doubting themselves, putting themselves last, and doing things alone. Being vulnerable, asking for help, and putting themselves and their priorities first will lead to better results, which leads to better chances of getting promoted. As a female leader, it’s up to you to blaze the trail and change the rules. Stop doing what you’ve always done and start doing what will get you to the next level.


  • Sue Hawkes

    CEO, Speaker, Best-Selling Author and Entrepreneur

    Sue Hawkes helps CEOs and their leadership teams succeed. As a bestselling author, keynote speaker, Certified EOS Implementer, Certified Business Coach, WPO Chapter Chair, and globally recognized, award-winning seminar leader, Sue brings over twenty-five years of experience to her clients. She is CEO of YESS! and has designed and delivered dynamic, transformational programs for thousands of people. Sue has received numerous awards including the Dream Keeper award recognized by the Governor’s Council for her leadership program, the Regional U.S. Small Business Administration Women in Business Champion of the Year award, the Exemplary Woman of the Community award, WomenVenture’s Unsung Hero award, Women Who Lead from Minnesota Business Magazine, NAWBO Minnesota’s Achieve! Vision Award and named a 2018 Enterprising Woman of the Year. Her most recent book, "Chasing Perfection- Shatter the Illusion; Minimize Self-Doubt & Maximize Success," is available now.