joanna barsh

What’s not to admire about Joanna Barsh? Not only is she smart. Not only has she devoted her career at consulting giant McKinsey & Company to accelerating the development of women leaders. What’s more, she’s still an active learner, and happy to share her own lessons learned.When I asked her in a recent interview about women’s general reluctance to partake in the give-and-take (“reciprocity”) of workplace politics, she used herself as an example of how we can work through our reluctance to informal networking:

I am a painfully shy introvert. In one of our leadership workshops in 2009, I voiced a frightening thing, that “I don’t want to meet with people because they are going to hurt me.” It’s all about making your mindset explicit. When I did that, I was reassured, “You’ll prevent that from happening, or you’ll bounce back from it.” I was able to shift my mindset to: “I’m excited to meet them because I’m bringing a gift and they will open their arms to me.” It defanged them for me. I’m no longer afraid. I consider it a mutual learning experience, so I walk in as a peer. Your mindset decides how you walk in, sit, and talk.

As co-author of McKinsey’s recent report on women in the workplace, Barsh has been vocal in supporting the kind of on-the-ground strategies (coaching, leadership training, job rotations) that women themselves can take in hand, instead of waiting for the latest top-down corporate initiative that may or may not succeed.

While a man is admired for his strength, Barsh reminds us, a woman may be labelled a bitch. “Women need effective strategies.” A director in McKinsey’s New York office, she is the co-author (with Susie Cranston and Geoffrey Lewis) of a terrific book, How Remarkable Women Lead.

Coaching works, she says, because it helps women gain the self-awareness that is the essential first step to claiming their own power. “On day two or three of one of our Centered Leadership workshops, a woman got up and said, ‘Joanna, you used the word ‘power.’ You’ve given me permission to be powerful. I’m so excited!”

How does power happen? Barsh sees a clear pathway:

  1. Increase your self-awareness
  2. Shift your mindset
  3. Master the requisite skills and techniques
  4. Enact new behavior

What follows, she says, are promotions, happiness, and a sense of contribution.

A coach helps all along the way, says Barsh, by:

  • seeing the strengths and weaknesses you may not see yourself
  • developing your “internal calibration”
  • offering encouragement

Barsh’s research among advanced leaders shows no gender differences. Those women and men, she says, share leadership effectiveness and ability. “If  you learn self-awareness and personal mastery in pursuit of a vision, you’re going to get there. There’s no innate reason why a woman can’t.”

(Want more power strategies? Subscribe to my free eletter.)


About CoffeeWithKath

Passionate about Technology in Education and how it can make a difference in the lives of students with Dyslexia. Founder of @ForDyslexia. Mom of twins. Juggling entrepreneurship and kids.


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