How Women Rise – Putting the cart before the horse (Habit 6)

Putting the cart before the horse

Imagine what would happen if your put the cart before the horse as a reference to putting your job before your career. With the cart, it is the very thing that will carry you to where you need to go, and the horse is your power source. If your career is the cart and your power source in the form of your horse, is your current role, surely it makes sense to harness your current role as your power source to pull you towards where you are going. Your current role is the very thing that can enable you to take the next career step.

The reverse is often true, professional women being the diligent beings that they are, have a tendency to spend more time taming the horse which is right in front of them rather than putting it right out in front to lead the way to pull the whole carriage forward. This is akin to the professional habit, putting you job before your career. Maintaining too much emphasis on the job at hand can have a big impact on career progress for women by inhibiting the ability to focus on the overall career vision. Women have a desire to demonstrate loyalty and commitment to bosses or teams, which can prevent the pursuit of opportunities that will serve becoming optimally positioned for the future.

An example from Sally Helgesen’s bestselling Book ‘How Women Rise’ depicts Serena, a senior production assistant for a network news show in L.A. who had been in the same role for 11 years. Serena’s loyalty to the Emmy award winning producer she worked for and the pride she took in her job and managing her team overshadowed her ability to build broader relationships and progress in her career. Her boss was always singing her praises and talked of how lucky he was to be able to rely on her consistent high-level support. She enjoyed her job immensely, taking pride in doing everything required daily and yet was becoming frustrated when she did not progress in her career. Serena witnessed her peers at work, typically male production assistants get promoted ahead of her, in many cases she believed they did not do as good a job as she did, and Serena’s resentment started to build over time. Some of her reluctance to ask to move up was cultural, in her family if you had a good job it would be considered impolite or disloyal to want more. Coupled with a fear that she would be seen as self-serving. Her sense of loyalty to her fantastic role and boss was holding her back and she realized she had been waiting for opportunities to come to her versus taking steps to take action and proactively seeking them out.

You may have found yourself in a similar situation to Serena. To assess if you are suffering from this habit, start by examining the intersection of the feelings you are experiencing. This could be experiencing a combination of excitement for your job that derives great pleasure and joy whilst at the same time holding onto questions you may not have the answers to such as why you seem to be the only one staying in one place for a longer than the average tenure. Bringing about additional feelings of confusion or frustration.

The top 10 Job Before Career questions

Ask yourself the following questions as a self-assessment to help establish where you are in relationship to putting your job before your career:

  1. Do you have a larger than life enthusiasm for your current role?
  2. Are you a high achiever in the role you have?
  3. Are you often seen as the one going the extra mile?
  4. Are you consistently the first to arrive at the office and the last to leave?
  5. Do you make sure you complete 100% of your daily to do list?
  6. Do you receive loads of praise from your boss?
  7. Do you hear things at work like “What would we do without you”?
  8. Is your career vision fuzzy or undefined?
  9. Do you have regular feelings of frustration when your peers move onwards and upwards?
  10. Do you feel perplexed or bewildered as to why you are not progressing at the same pace as your peers?

If you answered yes to more of these questions than no and you want to move forward in your career you will need to take action to make sure you are considered for the next promotion or new job. You need to allow the horse to lead the carriage.

The secret sauce for reversing this habit and putting your career before your job not your job before your career is to get crystal clear on what your career vision looks like. Think of yourself as a business that provides services to your current workplace and your current role is more of a project-based assignment with a start and end date in mind.

For more inspiration on getting career clear you may enjoy a related article Do you know where you where you are going as women in the workplace?

Article written by Simone Lawrence-Managing Partner, Executive Coach and People Developer at The Ameliorate Group. Content inspired by the book called “How Women Rise” by Sally Helgesen-12 habits that hold women back from being successful in their careers-as well as my own experience as executive coach when coaching senior leaders in the workplace.

The Ameliorate Group, Learning Partner with Women@Work is a leadership and corporate coaching consultancy offering a range of bite-sized learning solutions to long-term development programs incorporating executive coaching to achieve organizational goals. The Ameliorate Group aims to superpower your teams and individual capability beyond what you thought was possible.

The first ‘How Woman Rise” program is available across the Middle East through The Ameliorate Group powered by Sally Helgesen. Creating more inclusive workplaces of the future through raising awareness of the habits that hold women back from being more successful in their careers. Encouraging both genders to engage in dialogue and co-creation of solutions and strategies to help women rise at work and in business.


Women@Work Coach -
22 Nov 2020
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