The Woman Leader – or How the Desire to Please Others Can Prevent Growth

Ana Maria Vâlcu

9 minutes read

Inspired by Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith’s book „How women rise”, and drawing on my own personal experience, I will now talk about the subject of women’s leadership.

How women rise” is based on its authors’ almost three decades of experience coaching and consulting for women in key leadership positions in large organizations from across the world. In the book, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith describe 12 habits that prevent women from advancing to the next stage of their careers.

In the following paragraphs though, I will focus specifically on the one habit I most frequently encountered during more than six years of professional experience in large and very large organizations, throughout hundreds of hiring interviews, namely: the desire to constantly please others

Where does this habit come from and how can you get rid of it?

First of all, it’s a combination of factors. According to the two authors, studies show that starting from childhood, girls are rewarded and appreciated for being obedient, affable, and for the desire to please others and for being „nice”. And this happens not only in family but also at school.

The same thing happens within organizations where the environment has been molded by years of male leadership. Therefore, women end up being penalized when they are assertive or when they express independent opinions. 

In their book, Sally Helgesen and Marshall Goldsmith present examples and stories of their clients, leading us to conclude that the desire to always please others comes from:

●       the fear of being judged;

●       the fear of not being deemed trustworthy;

●       the fear of making other people sad;

●       the inability to accept that other people might talk negatively about you.

On the other hand, the two authors also explain that every mental habit brings along a series of advantages that once we are able to identify, we can use in our favor.

For example, the desire to always please the others develops our feel for human interaction, our ability to notice when someone is sad, worried, frightened or absent-minded, also the ability to communicate and motivate a team, etc. 

But when used excessively, the desire to please others prevents women from reaching key positions in organizations because it translates into an inability to take decisions, to delegate or to act with authority and blocks women within the execution stage of the process.  

Moreover, this habit affects the judgement and transforms women into potential victims of manipulation by people who know how to use guilt in order to make other people satisfy their needs.

Then how can we get rid of this habit?

In the last two chapters of their book – Habits that prevent women from reaching their goals and Changing for the better – the authors analyze in detail the thought patterns that women have internalized over time, the relationships/correlations that exist among those patterns and how they can be neutralized, and they offer several solutions:

  1. Reflect on the circumstances when out of a desire to be liked you ended up overwhelmed. How was this manifested?

2. Try to find an answer to the following questions: What’s in it for you when you act as a „people pleaser”? In what ways your desire to always be liked limits your efficacy as a leader?

3. Know your goal, your interests and your priorities. Try to find an answer to questions such as: What are my interests and my priorities? Where do I want to invest my time, energy and effort? What makes me feel confident? What gives me courage, strength? What makes me happy, fulfilled?

4. When somebody calls to ask you to do something that is not a priority for you ask for details: Why did you think to ask me? What made you ask me to do this specific thing for you?

If they start beating around the bush or if they take time to answer, then it’s possible that that person was simply „too busy to do that thing by themselves, and you seemed like the type of person that would say YES”. Another key method is to never give an answer on the spot. Analyze the proposal you received, think it over. (Is this a priority for me right now? Do I have time to add this activity to my calendar?) ask for clarifications (What does this entail? How long will it take me? Could somebody else do this task?) and only after you have an answer to all these questions give your verdict.

The solutions mentioned above represent my understanding of this vast subject. They are only a part of a multitude of possible solutions which, if adopted, might lead to the elimination of this destructive habit and consequently to the utilization, in an advantageous way, of the benefits we reaped while practicing it excessively.

Did you have to deal yourself with this „chronic disease”? If so, what were the benefits of beating it?

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Written by Ana-Maria Vâlcu


Young entrepreneur with vision and desire to bring about a change in the society. Passionate about acting and writing. I am focusing on building, I strongly believe in the human potential, I am trying to deeply understand every situation I encounter in a project and to infuse positive energy in each human interaction.

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