A 12-Step Program to Gaining Power

Most management books for women are filled with platitudes. This one, by a male-female team of executive-development pros, offers much more

When the Hers column got started early last year, women's career-management books started crossing my desk--by the bundle. I didn't think much of the subject because I thought women could read the general management books. Still, after the 12th book arrived, I could no longer ignore the genre. It turns out that a how-to book for female managers makes sense. Since women hold only about 3% of senior positions in Corporate America, there are a limited number of role models to guide the next generation of female executives. Books that offer stories of successful businesswomen can make up for that deficit, teaching up-and-comers through the personal experience of those who blazed the trails.

Unfortunately, I found little of value in my recent review of about two dozen women's career-management books written in the past two years. Many were pedantic or platitudinous, filled with trite statements along the lines of this piece of advice from one author: "A key to effectiveness is to make responsible decisions on a timely basis with the information available and then to move forward."

Some books offer interesting profiles of high-powered businesswomen, such as eBay's (EBAY ) Meg Whitman, but they don't put the stories into any useful context. While a chapter or two held my interest, I was challenged to find one worth a cover-to-cover read.

Then I picked up Janice Reals Ellig's and William J. Morin's What Every Successful Woman Knows: 12 Breakthrough Strategies to Get the Power & Ignite Your Career ($21.95). Well-written and engaging, the book happens to be published by McGraw-Hill, which, like BusinessWeek, is owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies.

A big-picture focus sets this book apart from its competitors. Unlike the others, which string together a series of anecdotes that don't add up to a coherent plan of action, the book gives 12 well-defined, chronological strategies for getting ahead.

The male-female writing team is uniquely qualified to give advice. Ellig is a partner at executive-search firm Gould, McCoy & Chadick, and Morin owns a management consulting firm that specializes in executive development.

Together, they argue that women aren't ascending from management positions into leadership roles in part because they don't have a strategic road map. "Women often try to manage too many details on their jobs and fail to focus on the big picture--their careers," write Ellig and Morin. "Women should follow the male model: Delegate more," they recommend.

One important strategy is for women to build politically savvy relationships. "In far too many corporate women today, political incompetence is proving to be a formidable stumbling block to the organizational power they seek," the authors write. Women need to find out who has corporate power, provide those people with something they need or want, and then call on them in the future for career help. "It requires a level of strategic thinking and tactical targeting that has simply not been part of women's traditional skills conditioning," they write.

WHO CAN HELP? A series of worksheets outline specific steps to take. For example, the authors provide a "Champions List" that identifies powerful people inside and outside the company who can help you. Then they provide spaces for you to write down how you can meet them and win them over. I'm the first to moan when I see a worksheet, but it can jolt you into action.

On the negative side, I sometimes felt that if I did everything the book suggests, I wouldn't have time for the rest of my life. The authors repeatedly urge readers to use the Internet, take classes, join organizations, and network to learn necessary skills. They also use many anonymous sources. Many of the other authors highlight who they spoke with, so the absence of names made me wonder who Ellig and Morin interviewed.

Still, this book got me thinking about my career and how I conduct myself at work--certainly a worthwhile subject for any woman professional.

To join a discussion in our forum, see hers.online at www.businessweek.com/investor/

By Toddi Gutner

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