Her Place at the Table: A Woman's Guide to Negotiating Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success
By Deborah Kolb, Judith Williams, and Carol Frohlinger, JD
Jossey-Bass, 2010, 250-pages, $19.95
I read a lot of business books. I need to: in addition to consulting and coaching, I frequently conduct seminars on leadership, strategy formulation, and strategy execution.
About two years ago, I was coaching the president of a health system in NYC, a very capable woman. Her healthcare system had just been taken over by a medical school/healthcare system. She wanted help navigating the thicket of a political scene she was not familiar with. The new boss wanted her, but her big question was: Could I succeed in the new system?
I did not hesitate a nanosecond in recommending that she read Her Place at the Table. Here’s why:
- The book is about how to negotiate and succeed in a leadership role. In my view, negotiation is the most basic leadership skill yet the one least developed in my clients. The book tells how to determine whether to take a new executive assignment, and, if the answer is yes, how to negotiate for the organizational support needed to succeed in it.
- The book describes the traps and dilemmas women uniquely face when in leadership positions. The authors oberve that the most egregious forms of sexism are fairly rare these days, but what they call “second generation gender issues” continue to operate and can trip up even the best female leaders. An example is a question that almost never gets asked but is often on a hiring manager‘s mind: “Will her personal life get in the way?” The assumption by many is that a woman will not be willing to devote as much time to the job as a man will.
- The book is 95% applicable to men as well as women. In my experience, people on both sides of the hiring interview—candidate and hiring party—lack skill in navigating the hiring process. This book has helped a number of my male clients become far more effective in these situations.
- There is another benefit for men in reading it: the books sensitizes the male reader to the difficulties women leaders face, helping them to rid their own hiring practices of gender-bias.
As to the benefit men will get from the book, I recommended it six months ago when a male coaching client informed me that he was applying for the presidency of a university. Did I have any advice for him as he prepared for this process? “Read Her Place at the Table immediately!” I said. “This book will help you formulate questions that will enable you to see deeply into the political system,” I told him, “and understand the field of forces that will support and hinder your success.” Two days later, he told me he had read most of the book and it helped him a ton.
Then, three months later, another male coaching client told me he was applying for a new job. I not only urged him to read Her Place at the Table, but also gave him the assignment to formulate 10 questions he would ask during the interview process that were inspired by the book. Later, we used those questions (and others I concocted) in a role-play job interview.
One of the questions he came up with was, “Which term best describes the role of the person who will succeed in this job: builder, fixer, maintainer, or transformer?” When he went through a day of interviews, this question stopped everyone in their tracks, but all of the interviewers answered it by first saying, “What a fabulous question!” Interestingly, there was a lot of disagreement among their answers! The subsequent exploration gave him exceptionally rich data about the system. Brilliant!
One chapter in the book is addressed to each of the "Five Key Challenges to Leadership Success” mentioned in the subtitle. While each of these have been addressed by other books, these authors take a very, very practical approach to addressing how to navigate each challenge and their negotiation perspective is enormously practical. The Five Challenges are:
- Drill Deep (do in-depth diligence)
- Mobilize Backers
- Garner Resources (how to get the resources needed to succeed)
- Bring People On Board
- Make a Difference
The authors, drawing on their extensive knowledge and consulting backgrounds(one formerly Directed the Harvard Project on Negotiation) and ideas put forward in their previous book, Everyday Negotiation: Managing the Hidden Agendas of Bargaining, articulate principles one should follow when addressing each challenge. Through vivid examples they show how others have managed these tasks . Each chapter opens with a statement of the goal of each challenge and the traps to avoid. Then, the bulk of the chapter is organized around very specific tactics one can take to meet each challenge, again illustrated beautifully.
In addition to recommending the book to both male and female clients, I am using this book in a nationally-renown women-only leadership course. It makes no difference whether or not you are seeking a new position or whether you are a male or female executive, my advice is: get this book! Hurrah to these authors!
Other book reviews: Lafley And Martin's Strategy Book