Shellye Archambeau is an experienced CEO and Board Director with over 30 years of experience in technology, and a track record of accomplishments building brands, high performance teams, and organizations. She is the former CEO of MetricStream, a Silicon Valley-based governance, risk, and compliance software company, which grew from a fledgling startup into a global market leader during her tenure.
Below, Shellye shares a few key insights from her new book, Unapologetically Ambitious: Take Risks, Break Barriers, and Create Success on Your Own Terms.
“Shellye, just remember,” my mom said to me, “there are lots of things I do not know how to do.” I was early in my marriage at the time and had no idea what she was trying to tell me. She clarified, “I don’t know how to change the oil in the car, I don’t know how to put out the trash, and I don’t know how to wash the windows.” And then I understood—she was listing all the things my Dad did. She was telling me that I needed to leave some things alone and let somebody else carry some of the responsibilities. I needed to hear this advice, because at the time, I was taking on just about everything myself.
It’s a well-documented fact that, decades after most women entered the workplace, we’re still doing the majority of the housework. What my mother was trying to tell me was why and how that comes to be. It isn’t quite as simple as the tempting generalization that “men don’t see or care when things need to be done.” As a matter of fact, Scotty was a great help with everything, always ready to contribute. But that’s the thing—in my mind, Scotty was helping, but the primary responsibility was still mine.
Why was it so difficult for me to, for example, let my husband do the laundry? Why did I feel the ultimate responsibility fell to me? Conventional wisdom reasons it this way: Because domestic work is historically seen as “women’s work,” women are expecting to be judged on the quality of the domestic work, whether they actually did it or not. In other words, if my husband steps out in a wrinkled shirt, I’m the one who worries about what people will think—of me, not of him.
“The more you do, the less you get paid.”
People in general, and women in particular, can feel responsible for everything at work, too. There’s a school of thought that each of us should figure out what our strengths and weaknesses are, and then we should strengthen the weaknesses. To me, this makes no sense at all. I say you ought to strengthen your strengths, because that’s how you become most valuable to your team. Yet I know many successful professional women who still believe that they have to know how to do everything, and do it well. A woman might berate herself for lacking a seemingly basic skill, like knowing how to format a document, while a man will readily hand such a task over to a junior employee. In short, at home and at work, women tend to believe we are cheating if we accept help, or inadequate if we can’t seamlessly transition among a wide variety of tasks.
This mentality is stifling at home, and at work it can slow the progress of your career. In order to have a healthier personal life and also rise within an organization, you have to accept certain responsibilities, to delegate some tasks to the right team members, and to seek guidance from others as you face new challenges. It seems evident, on the surface, that we shouldn’t expect ourselves to be perfect polymaths; but I’ve known many women who have gotten stuck in their careers because they were unable to master a skill they could have delegated, unwilling to delegate a task for someone else could do, or unwilling to seek guidance when they needed it.
I like to say, “The more you do, the less you get paid.” In other words, it’s your ability to get work done through others that gets you promoted up the career ladder. I don’t mean that senior people don’t work hard; most do. But they take fewer tasks on personally. Instead, they inspire, direct, review, edit, and enable their teams to get work done and execute on strategy. That’s what good management looks like—and it definitely doesn’t mean doing everything yourself.
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