Women Need to Realize Work Isn't School

Academic institutions are churning out ever-more female graduates. But the very skills that propel women to the top of the class in school are earning us middle-of the-pack marks in the workplace. Indeed, a recent study found that women account for 51.4% of middle managers in the U.S. but only 4.2% of Fortune 500 CEO’s. Based on our experience, the CEO statistics will continue to improve, but only incrementally, until women recognize that the boardroom is not the schoolroom. To be successful, we must now do the very thing we were always taught not to: be disruptive.

In school, being disruptive might get you sent to the principal’s office, but in business, disruption is a proven path to success, describing innovations that take root at the low end of the market, or create a new market, and then eventually upend an industry. If you play disruptively as you go into the workplace, you’ll be doing the upending.

Consider disrupting yourself when it comes to these five areas — areas where the skills you honed as a high-achieving student are likely doing you a disservice in your career:

1. Figure out how to challenge and influence authority. In school, in order to get the grade, you learned to provide the authority figure — the teacher — what he or she wanted. In the workplace, that translates into asking “good girl” questions: “What does this boss want from me? Which of my boss’s needs aren’t being met? What do I need to do to get an A?”

This approach may get you some initial gold stars, but it won’t get you what you really want, which is to be an indispensable player, not just to your boss, but in your industry. To become an all-star, you need to develop a new skill: you need to learn how to challenge and influence authority, rather than simply giving the authority figures what they want.

Once you find problems that need to be solved and think up solutions, start talking, and especially start persuading. According to recent research on entrepreneurs (and to be successful, the entrepreneurial mindset is required), the single most important trait is

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