Have you got the disease to please?

09.06.11 | Posted in Women & Business Women In Business

We had the best morning yesterday with Dr Lois Frankel when she came and presented to the Sydney Business Chicks community. Dr Frankel wrote the books Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office; Nice Girls Just Don’t Get it; Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich, See Jane Lead and Stop Sabotaging Your Career. If you ask me, she’s without a doubt the authority on women getting more of what they want from their lives and their careers, and yesterday, she didn’t disappoint.

Her workshop was jam-packed with tips and advice, which is what we strive for at Business Chicks at these sessions. Who’s got time to sit through hours of content where the speaker just won’t get to the point?

I’d love to share some of Dr Frankel’s ideas with you.

Em & Lois Frankel

First up, people like high energy people. Simple as that. So when you meet someone, be enthusiastic and use their name, and if you’re meeting them for the first time, use your whole name: “Hi, I’m Emma Isaacs”. Dr Frankel also said that women should mention their title when introducing themselves, so “Hi, I’m Emma Isaacs, the CEO of Business Chicks.” I always do this where appropriate, but this tip may be more culturally acceptable in the US, than here in Australia. Your call.

Dr Frankel talked about nice girl syndrome, and described it as ‘the disease to please.’ She went on to say that nice girls just don’t get that they have to act differently in order to get ahead, and they often follow the rules of their childhood, whatever they may have been. She scanned the audience for some input and people cited their childhood rules as “wait to speak until spoken to”; “always be a high-achiever”; “respect authority” etc. It’s easy to see how these now pan out in our careers and lives.

Dr Frankel said you should always strive to be among the first two or three people in a meeting to speak. Women are really good listeners and we often just sit back and take it all in – the problem is that by the time it comes to our turn to speak, everything’s already been said. Be assertive in meetings by being among the first to speak. Also lean forward; put both feet on the ground; never ever take food for the participants (this reinforces the fact that you’re a nurturer and care giver – not the image you want to portray in corporate life). She said women make a few mistakes when it comes to meetings – we often offer to be the note taker/scribe, but why can that role not go to a male, or be shared?  We’re also the ones to go get an extra chair if it’s required, and as a result are often seated a bit back from the table or in an awkward position. On position, she said that in meetings you should always sit next to the most powerful person in the room. The other obvious tip was never play with your hair in a meeting. I always thought that was a given, but I still see women (nice girls) doing it.

Dr Frankel said that nice girls won’t take something on because if they can’t do it at 150% then they won’t. She encouraged us all just to go for it, even if it means not being perfect. Guys have no problem taking on stuff they know little about, and we should too.

I often get confused about the definition of nice as I’d take (like you I’m sure) being nice over being a bitch any day. Dr Frankel helped us to understand this. She said “nice is necessary for success, but it’s not sufficient.” You must be likeable (her words were “your likeability quotient should never be underestimated”) and respect that there’s a spectrum of niceness – at one end is those who suffer from nice girl syndrome and at the other end there’s the aggressive bitch. We must find our power in the middle somewhere and at some point, graduate from being a ‘nice girl’ to being a ‘winning woman’.

Dr Frankel said that nice girls don’t aggressively pursue their goals because they don’t want to threaten others. They don’t ask for what they really want. They believe it’s their job to take care of everyone else. When given a compliment they say “Oh, it was nothing” instead of “Thanks for noticing.” She then went on to list the top ten mistakes nice girls make:

  1. They just don’t get it. They wait to be invited/asked. They don’t get that you have to act differently.
  2. They work too hard. You’ve got to work up to the baseline (the average of your company’s work ethic/culture) but not above it.
  3. They don’t set boundaries.
  4. They always strive for perfection.
  5. They ignore the ‘look and sound’ of success. 50% comes from how you sound, 40% comes from how you look, and only 10% of your credibility comes from what you actually say.
  6. They are unclear about their personal brand or vision – what do you want people to say about you when you’re not around?
  7. They stay too long in bad situations.
  8. They wait to be given what they want instead of chasing it.
  9. They use way too many words to articulate what they’re trying to say.
  10. They entrust their financial security to someone else.

She said that women feared being powerful because they were scared that they’d be rejected by men. She talked about the ‘boy’s club’ being just a phrase for a ‘white male system’, and said that a system is designed to maintain itself. If, as you’re practicing being a winning woman, you come across resistance or seem to get a rise from someone because of your behaviour, say to yourself “Ooh – I just did something to threaten the white male system.”

Where are you at with your journey from nice girl to winning woman? I’d love to hear about it below.


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  1. Peita

    This is such a great round up Emma, thank you. I am new to Business Chicks and couldn’t make this event so it was great to read the highlights. Thanks for providing such a great outlet for business women!

  2. Jo

    Why nice girls don’t get the corner office is a book that I suggest to my clients as a resource to discover how being nice can dilute how they show up (their personal brand) at work and in life in general.

    I shared my feelings (that are very conflicted at times) on being nice in this post I am very hesitant in providing a link to posts that I have posted when I visit anothers site but this does capture my feelings and thoughts.

    Rest and rejuvenate while you wait for your new family member to arrive.

  3. Emma

    Thanks Peita – you missed a great event. Nothing like being there in the flesh, but I’m sure we’ll meet another time. Thanks so much for your kind words and for commenting. All the best! Emma

  4. Emma

    Thanks so much Jo – will be sure to read your post. Lots of love (and will keep you posted re bub’s arrival!) Em

  5. Fiona Pascoe

    Hey Emma, thanks so much for summarising for I couldn’t attend either and was very interested to hear about the content ….wow did I miss out!!!!!!

    I love her idea of a scale of niceness which many winning women in my world seem to gracefully intuit as the situation demands….connecting heart to heart around a defined set of objectives, standards and timelines. Not easy but definitely doable and a pleasure to experience.

    Hope I can make the next one….Fi

  6. Sally Foley-Lewis

    Great post Emma.

    I read Dr Frankel’s work a few years back and only over the last few years has it steadily sunk in, both as an employee and as a business owner.

    I can look back to my younger days and see where I’ve needed the vaccine cure the disease to please and at other times I needed to calm the heck down and be less aggressive and more winning.

    I know I have improved a lot yet I know boundaries, for example, is one area that is a work in progress.

    Again, thanks for sharing, this was one event I really wanted to attend yet was unable to!

  7. Michele Connolly

    I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make this Emma, as it’s such a great topic. Just today in my Combat class the instructor asked us (mostly gals) which track we wanted to do. No one replied. I spoke up for my preference – and as I was the only one, got it! Thanks so much for sharing these ideas from Dr Frankel’s presentation. M :)

  8. Suzy Byrne

    If 50% really is about you sound – how did Julia Gillard make it to PM?

    But seriously this is a very interesting read Em. My key learning here will be to try to use less words.

    Thanks again!