By Tammy Heermann, Leadership Development Expert

When you’re in the zone, doing your thing, you feel invincible, right? You know you can harness your mindset to make the impossible feel possible. It’s a powerful thing. But too often we use that power for evil rather than good.

In fact, I’ve seen many ways that women sabotage their own chances for advancement at work. Maybe it’s how you unwittingly confuse being a good team player with making yourself subservient. Maybe it’s because you hold onto control so tight you drown in long to do lists. Over years of working with female leaders the world over, I have identified 10 common ways that women hold themselves back. Below I describe 5. Do you recognize any of these? If you’d like to read them all, download the eBook here.

Doubting Your Own Potential

Many women I work with believe they will never be ready or qualified to take on a more senior role. It’s a chronic problem. In fact, in interviews with current and former female CEOs of the Fortune 1000, it was discovered that 65% of the women never sought to be CEOs until someone told them they had the potential. Only 9% said they’d always wanted to be CEO.

When contemplating a new opportunity, women, I find too often, wallow in negative questions and talk themselves out of going for it. We ask ourselves, ‘Am I ready?’ Or, ‘How will I stand a chance against more experienced candidates?’ If you doubt your own full potential, you’ll never actually achieve it.

Working Heads Down

Do you believe that networking is a nebulous time suck? Do you cringe at the mere mention of the word? Really, isn’t it just schmoozing? Who’s got time for that? It turns out, we all must make time for that. Working hard only gets you so far and your accomplishments won’t always be noticed or rewarded.

The good news is that women inherently value relationship building. The bad news, however, is that women are reluctant to apply this talent for their own gain. They make connections that benefit their organizations, but somehow fail to implement it as a strategy to promote their own career aspirations.

Accepting The Role Of A Wallflower

Deborah Tannen, a linguistics professor at Georgetown University, has found in her research that in public forums, women talk less than men. And when they did, their ideas were not often picked up or attributed to them.

I have seen females at all levels clam up during conversations. More often than not, it comes down to a mistaken belief that they have nothing to add to the conversation, that they know less than the other person, or that they will sound stupid.

But when you choose to stay silent and not participate, you are projecting the exact image that you want to avoid. You look like you have no ideas, and nothing to contribute.

The Hamster-Wheel Of Tactical Work

I was having a lively discussion with a group of HR leaders on the barriers women face in advancing to more senior roles. One of these barriers was described as being willingly trapped in the “hamster wheel of tactical work.”

A senior male HR leader said he’d observed how, at the end of every meeting of his team, the female peers volunteered to take on all the action items and the administrative details. They even stayed to clean up the debris left over from the meeting. Essentially, they willingly bore the brunt of the grunt work, while the men just skated away.

Women need to be aware that when you get stuck in tactical work, it creates the impression that you are unable to take on strategic thinking and tasks. The same holds true when you can’t delegate responsibilities (at work and at home!). It will erode the quality of what you do and it diminishes your profile as a leader.

Endless Rumination

I was listening with rapt attention to a guest speaker address a group of high-potential female partner hopefuls. She was asked: what is the single most important lesson she learned over her career as the lone female amidst a sea of male partners? She said she was much happier and more successful when she learned to “just get over herself.”

This meant not ruminating incessantly about every decision, beating herself up when she had a setback, taking everything so seriously, or holding onto grudges. When she got over herself, she could project the confidence of a leader. Not only did this lead to greater success, but it also allowed her to sleep better at night.

It’s hard to get control of the voices that take up office in our heads. Those that make us question ourselves, tell us we’re not good enough, or make us hang on to unproductive feelings when they’re past their due date.

Overtime this leads to cynicism, unhealthy relationships and burnout, none of which are helpful for productive functioning at work.

Final Thoughts

As women leaders, we sometimes spend an inordinate amount of time ruminating about the things we can’t control and ignoring the things that we can. We become obsessed with the negative people and traditions and mechanisms that keep us from reaching the highest levels of leadership, but devote precious little time examining our own talk tracks and mindsets. The end result is that we unconsciously sabotage our own chances for success.

Research has consistently shown that women who adopt mindsets that demonstrate confidence in their strengths and key attributes tend to ultimately achieve higher levels of leadership success. That’s hardly revolutionary; our mindsets and beliefs shape our behaviors, which in turn forge the image that others have of us.

I encourage you to devote some time every day to reminding yourself of the strength and value you bring to your organization. And help other women never doubt the fact that they too have a lot to offer.

Let’s not have the greatest barrier faced on the road to leadership success be ourselves.

Tammy Heermann will be a keynote speaker at the 2019 Jacksonville Women’s Leadership Forum and is specifically sought out by global Fortune 500 companies for her expertise in gender diversity and award winning programs that accelerate women’s advancement. She creates trust by sharing stories of her own journey from Senior Consultant to Senior Vice-President. Through alternating moments of humor and heartache people walk away from their experiences with Tammy transformed.
You can learn more about Tammy’s work at