Leadership Lessons: Lipstick, Diamonds and Gucci Aren't Enough!

3 min read | Susan Colantuono

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Lipstick, diamonds and Gucci won't advance women in their careers. Nor will useful, but insufficient, advice on work/life balance, resilience or authenticity. Women are given abundant advice on how to look and how to be, but it only gets them so far. There's a not-so-little hidden secret that women aren't being told about career success.

(R) Missing 33_-type treatment-VertAfter years of studying women at all levels in organizations, I've found that there is a rarely discussed element that holds women back... or propels them ahead. It is one element where they are consistently rated as under-performing their male counterparts. It is one element missing from (or under-taught in) most organizations' leadership development programs. This one element is the vital missing piece of the success equation for women. I call it The Missing 33%®. It is business savvy with all its related skills and knowledge.

For years the traditional career success equation has been something like this:

Professional Competence + Interpersonal Skills
= Career Success.

This is one reason that many corporate leadership development programs focus so heavily on interpersonal skills. But these are the very skills at which women generally excel. Which raises the question, if women have such strong interpersonal skills, why are there so few women at the top of organizations? In part because these leadership development programs are built on an incomplete success equation. Therefore, they woefully underemphasize the most important career success driver: business savvy. In studies from around the globe, business savvy is one area where women are rated as underperforming men.

That women have less business savvy than men is a strong expectation. In company after company from F10 to mid-sized firms we've found that women are under-prepared to confront this expectation. This creates a significant career derailer - but one that can be easily overcome by filling in The Missing 33%®.

What does it take to fill in The Missing 33%®? Women need to acquire, develop and demonstrate skills in 3 areas:
  1. Business acumen and the related ability to speak the Language of Power™

  2. Strategic acumen - the ability to understand, set, evaluate and execute strategy

  3. Financial acumen - the ability to read the story of business performance that's told by the numbers

By buying into the belief that interpersonal skills and personal competence will carry them to the top, women will hit a plateau while resting on the laurels of their skills at engaging others. As long as women buy into the fashionistas' sales-driven message that how they look will make or break their career, women will invest more time and money in lipstick, diamonds and Gucci than in professional development of the business savvy kind. When it comes to women's advancement, lipstick, diamonds, Gucci - and even interpersonal skills - aren't enough! For career success, women must grab hold of The Missing 33%®.

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