Aside from the Wall Street Journal coining this phrase back in 1986 to describe the issues surrounding women trying to climb the corporate ladder(1), the “glass ceiling” has been used in business to describe not only the struggles of women during the late 1980s and beyond, but the struggles of many other business people who are seeking to climb or grow without a clear pathway. Small to medium sized businesses are owned by people who have also found that, at some point, they are unable to move past their current state. Another term for that state is ‘plateau’, ‘reaching a level’ or ‘holding a position’ and when these occur it can lead to the beginnings of what may be the decline of the business altogether.
Mind over perceived matter
Some Business Owners focus on the underperformance of their business and feel the frustrations of “not getting anywhere” usually put that down to an external influence. The market has changed. Their staff rotate too quickly. They can’t afford upgraded machinery. The customer only trusts them to do that job or provide that service. It’s certainly less confronting when the reason why a problem exists is because it’s due to something out of their control.
There is a way to navigating external factors, to move forward, and break through the ceiling that the Business Owner has put up for themselves. Growth in a business starts with addressing something that is much closer to home - the inside of the business. The area that the Business Owner and Leader has complete control over. This shift in focus completely dissolves the glass ceiling because changing the business will automatically change how outside influences interacts with it.
There are many sayings out there to help people realise that “we are the change that we want to see in the world”, but there is one particular that resonates very strongly in the business coaching world, and that is, you only grow to the extent of your weakest link.
Looking at the business - inside the business - finding where it needs strengthening is a powerful weapon a Business Leader can use to forge their way forward.
Regrouping your four spheres
Way back in at the beginning of One Week At A Time you may recall that we talked about the Four Spheres of a small to medium sized business. Those were Leadership, Finance, Operations and Marketing. They all interrelate and work together to make the business happen day to day. Review each of these in some detail to identify which needs the most developing. It’s very commonplace that a Business Owner does not have the expertise in all four areas, but what is important is that they are aware of the gap in knowledge in the area that is needing attention.
For example, Finance may be the area of the business where you know that there are ways to make profit in this area but haven’t discovered those strategies to use. Making the activity of investigating strategies to increase profits in your accounting or at the very least provide significant cost savings in this area is a way to regroup and redefine that part of the business. When we talked about Tethers previously in One Week At A Time, we were asking the Business Leader to examine the business across every area, seeing what isn’t performing as well as it could and take action to make those adjustments. And it does take courage to do that.
Action equals Confidence
Confidence equals Decisions
It’s the lack of confidence that can stop decisions being made in life and in a business. When a person isn’t sure they tend to do nothing until they are sure. In business and especially in Business Leadership, a lack of certainty is debilitating to both the Leader and the business.
It’s true that a lack of confidence can be a due to not having enough knowledge in an area, but in business those people leading aren’t the experts themselves - they don’t have the time to become a Certified Accountant before they can take on improving their financial situation. The knowledge that a person needs to feel confident often comes back to gaining the knowledge to know how to lead experts, by perhaps asking the Accountant to investigate a better software system that can create greater efficiencies.
What is interesting about this topic of breaking through the glass ceiling is that for many people finding a new way leads to acknowledging “you don’t know what you don’t know” - being okay with that - and then doing something about it. It’s those Business Leaders who can identify this who end up surviving market changes and are able to reinvigorate their business to face more challenges far better than many other businesses.
The glass ceiling altogether disappears when a business is improving itself, forging new ground and placing itself in positions where it can thrive.
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