For female leaders, there is no shortage of advice for how to reach the top. By learning to lean in, speak out, negotiate, delegate, and a dozen other behaviors, women everywhere are launching themselves through the glass ceilings of their organizations, landing jobs at or near the C-suite level.
But what happens after the promotion? While top-level jobs are tough on everyone, the transition to senior management comes with extra challenges for female leaders.
At the center is managing your mental energy: How to gain it, maintain it, and not drain it. Below are three tactics that Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg’s female clients have used to succeed in the particular context of a top-level job. Here is what she has to say:
1. Know your psychological superchargers
Like it or not, in all but the most evolved organizations, the idea of maintaining a work-life balance at the very top is simply fictional. Given this brutal reality, combined with the extra domestic burdens imposed on many women, how do female top leaders manage to recharge their batteries?
Part of the answer lies in realizing that not all sources of energy are equal. Specifically, some activities are what the author calls “psychological superchargers” — that is, activities that yield a disproportionately bigger energy boost than others.
In looking for your own superchargers, keep two things in mind: First, set aside culturally mandated ideas about what women are supposed or not supposed to gain energy from, and look instead to your quirkier sides.
Second, indulge your inner hedonist. Senior leadership positions tend to come with bigger paychecks — don’t forget that occasional self-indulgent spending can be a good investment too.
2. Find a work ally
Your personal life, of course, is not the only source of energy; under the right conditions, your work can also contribute to your mental reserves. This is especially true if your team is characterized by what Harvard Business School’s Amy Edmondson calls psychological safety; that is, the sense that your teammates are on your side.
The problem is, those conditions are generally not present at the top. Senior leadership teams are often political, and failures typically have much larger consequences. What, then, can be done to create a psychological work environment that helps maintain your energy?
The answer is to abandon the idea that your team as a whole can serve as a safe place. Instead, concentrate on gaining a single close ally — that is, a person in your team that you feel free to discuss things with behind the scenes and use as an outlet for the inevitable frustrations that come with the job.
With luck, you may have an ally on the team already. But if you don’t, there are ways you can speed up the process of creating such a relationship. First, don’t necessarily focus on gender. Shared Values are more important than gender.
Second, make your own particular passions known.
Finally, create opportunities to talk to people one-on-one, outside of the usual work setting.
3. Overcome anxiety by channeling your values
Risk-taking is part and parcel of corporate careers, and few people, men or women, enter the top ranks of the organization without having made a bold gamble or two along the way. But at the top, the nature of risk-taking changes significantly. There is a lot more at stake.
Women struggle with this shift a lot more than men, to the point where anxiety becomes an overriding emotion in their new role. Anxiety becomes a major energy leech. At the same time, when your anxiety level is high, it is difficult to take chances with new approaches, or even to see the situation with clear eyes. So, how should female leaders find the daily courage to step up to the plate, make tough choices, or stand alone on an issue?
It’s all rooted in your larger motivation: Do you focus on your career, aiming to maintain or even improve your position or political standing in the group? Or do you focus more on making a difference?
When your biggest aim is to avoid visible failures, the temptation to play it safe can lead to a career dominated by perpetual anxiety, and by a fatal tendency to shy away from the tough, career-defining calls.
Ask yourself: what can I vouch for? The ability to have the courage of your convictions is essential, as is having the nerve to follow a path.
Jointly, the three tactics can make a real difference in terms of managing your energy and succeeding at the top. And in more ways than one, doing so is crucial, because a lot hangs in the balance. We need to focus on how more women can reach the top — and how they can perform once they have arrived.
Read more on HBR.org.