What kind of glass is your ceiling made of?

Horrified again to read of some old dinosaur spouting rubbish about women in the workplace and why he prefers not to hire them.  He implies that if you are a woman, don’t bother, because that simple fact alone means that you will not progress very far in any career you attempt to pursue, since you are likely to be most interested in having babies anyway.  The old glass ceiling.  You can see the folks above you, you know most of them, you’ve worked with quite a lot of them, some of them even used to call you ‘boss’, but this is as high as you go, sorry.

In the modern workplace (apart from the one where that old dinosaur is CEO), the limits of achievement and progress are most likely not defined by your gender, your sexual orientation, your ethnicity or your beliefs.  I know that sort of discrimination still goes on, I read stories about it in the papers and get annoyed that it still happens in this day and age.

I reckon that for most of us, though, we have the potential to be the demolition experts for our own glass ceilings.  We all have one; sometimes it’s really low and made of glass that is easily shattered.  We may have so much that we have to develop in ourselves, but our openness to learning means that we can easily embark on a path of growth.  We open ourselves to learning how to listen to others better.  We avail ourselves to learning opportunities that stretch us as people and grow our self-awareness.  We enhance our negotiation skills……and as we learn all these things, we keep raising our glass ceiling so that the limits to our potential grow as we do.

But sometimes the glass ceiling is really high and made of thick bullet-proof glass.  For this one, think high achievers with low self-awareness; these folks go through living the (largely) unexamined life.  They’ve had what it takes to get so far up the corporate ladder but can progress no more because what is required to get to the top spot is greater self-knowledge and the accompanying capabilities that go with it; unfortunately, the glass ceiling for these guys is so thick because of the almost pathological aversion to any kind of self-development.  Of course, he doesn’t realise that he’s not going to get to that C-suite because of something he needs to learn.  That’s the thing with glass ceilings; sometimes we can’t see them clearly, so we don’t see how they impede us OR how to get past them OR what WE can do about them.

I have been working with leaders at all levels of organisations for a number of years now, both in a group context and a one-to-one coaching context.  What I see these folks enact at times is a living, breathing example of why they can only progress so high in their careers.  When a Manager responds to one of my questions in a timid manner, I know that there is something in the area of confidence that they need to further develop before they will be seriously considered for that promotion.  When another Manager speaks about their staff in a hateful and derogatory way, I realise that there is something in the area of genuine interest, caring, valuing and (dare I say it) loving of others that he needs to grow more of, before he will be given responsibility for that larger team.  When I hear of how a Manager fails to make themselves available to their staff for assistance and guidance, I know their glass ceiling is made up of something in the area of learning how to coach and mentor.

How do you know what kind of glass your glass ceiling is made of?  Take a cold, hard look at yourself.  Getting feedback from others is another way.  What do you do well, that you can build on?  Then, what areas do you need to develop?   If you reckon that you should be moving up that ladder a little faster, perhaps it’s worth finding out how you are limiting yourself.

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