Imagine the one-and-only Serena Williams. How would you describe her? The words, FIERCE, WORLD CHAMPION and GODDESS probably spring to mind. A word that probably DIDN’T spring to mind?

Selfish.

But guess what? High performance athletes ARE selfish. Their life’s work revolves around themselves: their health, training, nutrition, performance, and physical and mental fitness. To get to an elite level, they MUST make choices that allow them to meet these needs and they can’t do things that will take them off track.

So they have to say no. They have to set boundaries. They’re comfortable doing this because they’re FOCUSED, and they understand that high performance IS NOT POSSIBLE without focus.

On today’s episode of Fierce Feminine Leadership, I’ll walk you through the performance boosting power of being selfish, a practical way to be more selfish that won’t alienate the people you care about AND how you can integrate a little more selfishness into your own routine.

This episode will change your life. Don’t miss it.

Listen here.

Podcast Transcript:

Eleanor Beaton: You are listening to Fierce Feminine Leadership. Episode number two hundred and sixty: why successful women are more selfish and why you need to embrace episodic selfishness.

Welcome to Fierce Feminine Leadership: the Success Podcast for women in business. Each week we feature interviews and advice to help you step into your power and lead your way. Now here’s your host women’s leadership expert Eleanor Beaton.

Hello there fierce one. Welcome back to Fierce Feminine Leadership the success podcast for ambitious women in business.

This is episode number 260 and today we are talking about why successful women are more selfish and why you need to embrace what I call episodic selfishness which is an essential tool to help you propel your career and your sanity.

If you are new to the world of Fierce Feminine Leadership and this podcast, welcome to the show and thank you so much for tuning in. And if you are a loyal listener, thank you for being a part of our fierce tribe and lending me your valuable time and attention, Tuesday and Thursday. Week after week. We so appreciate it. Now for all listeners knew and preexisting, I encourage you to subscribe to the show and leave us a review. It helps more than you know. If you are not familiar with me, my name is Eleanor Beaton. I am a women’s leadership development mentor and my mission is to empower women to step into their power smash the glass ceiling and take their seats at the tables where the big deals and big decisions get made. And I tell you there’s one that it is my intention that you walk away from this podcast with tools tactics and inspiration so that when you take your seat at those tables you have not only a seat but also a voice.

So we are doing a series on the five lessons powerhouse women had to unlearn in order to unleash their ultimate potential. Now over the course of the last decade I’ve had the privilege of working with women whom I will say are the four percent. So what do I mean by the four per cent of women leaders? Well what we know is that when it comes to some of the most powerful companies in the world just about 4 per cent of the leaders of those companies and organizations are women. We also know when it comes to entrepreneurial organizations just 2 percent of all women owned businesses crack the seven figure mark in sales. Now you may not want to be the CEO of a major corporation and it may not be your intention to scale your business to 3, 4, 5 million per year in sales and beyond. But regardless, I think when you take a look at the success strategies of these powerhouse women leaders, it allows you to learn smart tips and tactics to help you create even greater success on your own terms. And what I can tell you from consulting with these 4 percent of women leaders from coaching, consulting, mentoring and so on, I can tell you that while they have different skill sets they come from different industries, they potentially have different world views, what they share what they share is a powerful and nuanced set of critical thinking, communication and leadership strategies that have enabled them to effectively smash through and navigate gender bias and reach the very top of their potential. So, more often than not, one of the things when it comes to leadership skills that they have had to navigate are lessons and beliefs to unlearn that have given them the freedom to do what so few women have been able to do historically. Ultimately to reach the top levels of business. So that’s what this series is all about. And if you want to go back to the beginning of this series where we talk about five lessons women had to unlearn in order to unlock their ultimate potential, you can head back on over to episode number 259. That’s where we start now.

Before we go any further I want to make sure that you stay tuned to the end because that’s we’re going to tell you about where you can access a special training that I’ve got coming up, it’s completely free. Once a quarter we do these free training webinars. It’s really my gift to the world of women’s leadership. So you can join us, tell your friends to join us. Essentially, this training is based on a reality, a disturbing reality that I have seen more and more among ambitious women leaders and it’s the reality of being tapped out. OK. And this is particularly true with senior women leaders. You are completely tapped out. Like you cannot possibly squeeze in another coffee date with somebody who wants to be mentored by you, pick your brain or collaborate. OK. And the truth is that you cannot outperform your boundaries. So make sure to listen to the end of this episode. We’re going to share with you a brand new free training that we’re going to be hosting on April the 10th. And if you’re catching the show after April 10th you can still actually get your hands on a recording of that training, I’m sure. So stay tuned for that. Free trading webinar and it is all about the art of setting powerful boundaries so that you don’t allow yourself to tap out.

But that’s where the end of the show, we’re at the beginning of the show and we are going to talk about tip number two and our five part series of lessons powerhouse women leaders had to unlearn in order to unlock their ultimate potential.

So here’s the deal tip number two is this. You have to learn that selfishness is always a bad thing. And what you need to learn is that selfishness can be the very thing that you need to unlock your next level of power, potential and meaningful contribution. So this episode is really broken down into three parts. In part one we’re going to talk about why women struggle to be selfish. Part two,  we’re going to talk about the performance boosting power of being selfish. And in part 3, I’m going to give you a very practical way that you can learn to be more selfish in a way that doesn’t alienate support. That doesn’t make you feel like you weren’t showing up for the people that matter. And that is actually pretty easy to do. I’ll give you some personal examples of how I have how I have integrated a little bit more selfishness into my life, helped my clients do the same and see some really incredible results come out of it.

So let’s talk about the root of the fear that so many of us have, women especially, about being selfish. It’s truly something that many women struggle with. We’re encouraged to put the needs of others before our own. Now at home this might mean putting the needs of your kids or even your partner ahead of your own. I know this is old news for many of you who’ve been doing it for a long time. At work, it might mean taking on more responsibilities than you can handle. I’ve seen women really stressing out helping their colleagues finish their projects while your own deadline is fast approaching. As a leader, and this is something that we don’t often talk about, as a leader it can mean a failure to hold your team accountable for results because you’re misinterpreting the adage that as a leader the buck stops with you.

So what I have seen is that sometimes women who want to step into that powerhouse role they’re starting to work with a team and rather than holding their team accountable to specific results, they feel like they need to step up and drive those results for them. Okay. So rather than setting results that your team needs to reach and then giving them the space and resources to succeed, along with the space to be able to fail. Sometimes you have to allow people to fail, ladies. Rather than bearing that and empowering them to reach their next level of leadership, you continue stepping in to save them while your own priorities get overlooked. This is a next level leadership challenge that we as women rarely talk about but is so critical if you want to drive results, especially when you’re leading a team. Now this might seem like a noble thing to do. Of course, you’re out there helping people. You’re not allowing your team to fail. You’re stepping in it and being the superhero and saving everybody. It might seem like it’s noble, but I tell you it is a road that goes in one direction and that’s a one way street to burn out.

So let’s talk about why women are so reluctant to be selfish. Well we have faced backlash for asserting our own needs for generations. You know when we were researching the show one of the things that we figured out is that when suffragettes were fighting for women’s basic right to vote, they were lampooned in the media as selfish. So, editorial cartoons and other propaganda pieces were created and they depicted women sitting around smoking cigarettes, playing cards while their husbands suffered miserably as they performed their wives regular duties of cleaning the house and taking care of the kids. I mean I can just completely see these lampoons. Can you not? And of course all the images did was flip the gender roles. So a woman smoking and reading a paper, while a man tries to feed a screaming baby. Men were depicted as suffering dramatically under these conditions and women were depicted as being utterly selfish.

Now it’s been a hundred years since women got the right to vote in North America, but we still have a deep cultural belief that women should put our needs last. And I see it all the time with my coaching clients. And these are powerful women leaders who still continue to this day to struggle with this. We still feel guilty when it comes to acting in our own best interests.

Now I recently discovered a study produced by Anna Fels and the Harvard Business Review called Do women lack ambition? Spoiler alert we do not and the study agrees with that. And according to the report women who enter the professional arena or start families feel a huge cultural pressure that tells them, tells us, that ambition is not compatible with femininity. And the women that Anna Fels interviewed for this study, they associated the word ambition with selfishness. And here’s a quote a direct quote from the report:.

“It’s not as obvious as being denied the right to vote or denied access to birth control. Women tend to feel foolish asking for appropriate acknowledgment of their contributions. They find it difficult to demand appropriate support in the form of time, money or promotion to pursue their own goals. They feel selfish when they do not subordinate their needs to the needs of others.”

Now a little P.S. here. Here at Fierce Feminine Leadership, we love the word ambitious. Feminine is in our headline, that’s in our show name. Ambitious in our tagline. We love the word ambitious. And I see part of my personal mission and the mission of this show is to really change the narrative and normalize feminine ambition. But you can see that there is a huge body of evidence and I’m sure you’ve felt this yourself that that precludes you or makes it seem selfish, unfeminine, unfair, nasty, to have goals and to really focus on those goals and hold them front and center rather, according to the ongoing pervasive cultural narrative, you should be putting your needs secondary to everything else. And only then are your goals acceptable when they’re secondary to everything else.

So we’ve talked about why women tend to not put our own interests first and let’s face – it if you’re going to encounter deep cultural backlash by putting your needs and ambitions first, why would you do it? Why would you put yourself through that pain and suffering? Here’s why, fierce one: because you’ll perform better.

You know someone who knows a lot, or a group of people, who know a lot about what it takes to perform at a high level? Athletes. And you know what you’ll discover by talking to a lot of coaches of elite performance athletes they will tell you high performance athletes are selfish. Their life’s work revolves around making themselves and their bodies, whether it’s their training, their nutrition, their performance, their physical and mental or mental fitness to get to any level they have to make choices that allow them to meet those needs they cannot do things that will get them off track, so they have to say no. They have to set boundaries. And they have to take the time that they need for themselves so that they can hone their abilities. So they work hard and they rest hard. And they understand the importance of this balance and the impact that it has on their performance. And what do we do to things that are truly important to us? That are in line with our vision? We protect them. And athletes protect this balance through effective boundaries. And they’re comfortable doing this because they are focused. Focused. My favorite F word after female. It is the core psychological skill of high performance ladies. If you want to perform at a higher level, the most important thing you can do to move the needle is to get focused. Focusing on the things you need to do to accomplish your goal, then blocking out everything else, is fundamental to being productive, organized and high performing. And, the problem, is that in a world of constant distractions, focus, is more important and harder to attain than ever before. So for most people it’s going to take dedication and intention and selfishness to retrain your mind to focus on one task at a time so you can be as effective and efficient as possible. So, fierce one, when you’re worried about feeling selfish, I want you to re-frame selfish as focused. Re-frame selfish as focused.

At your level, your biggest limitation is the belief that you need to be all things to all people. That belief will weigh you down and will claw you back from  making the progress and the impact that you are here to make. You have got to lay down your boundaries and focus on the few things that are genuinely important to you. Got it? Because we all have a finite amount of time here and we’ve got to make choices about where we spend that time. And if you’re not spending the time focusing your priorities, what are you doing?

Now, I’m not advocating that you become a selfish idiot overnight. Totally not advocating that. I’m not advocating that you neglect your important relationships. What I’m saying is that you need to put a dash of selfishness into your life in order to preserve and make genuine progress on the few things that are most important to you. I want you to think about, you know, your focus as a fortress that is under siege. Okay? Sounds a little bit dramatic, but that’s what it is. I mean, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, your focus is under a constant barrage of incoming fire. From email, from clients, from people who want to collaborate, from people who want to pick your brain, from you know family requests, from community requests, from school requests, from you know incoming headlines about what’s going on with the Kardashians. I mean your focus is under siege and the most important thing that you can do is to lay down the boundaries and put up the walls around that fortress to protect your focus.

And the solution… So rather than turning into a selfish idiot overnight, which none of us want, the solution is something that I call “episodic selfishness.” so episodic selfishness is allowing into your life moments that could last 30 minutes, they could last three days, they could last a month, where you double down on the things that are most important to you and you put your own needs first for that episode of time. Episodic selfishness ladies, it’s your new best friend.

So let me give you an example. A couple of months ago, I was in a bit of a state. I had some important projects coming up. They weren’t quite working out the way that I wanted to them to. I was exhausted. I mean, we had been just cracking you know as a business. I was feeling exhausted, and I just wasn’t feeling as productive as I wanted to feel. And I, you know, I just felt truly a little bit lost. And somebody said to me: Look this is a code red. My mentor, she’s like, you you need to go and take a retreat. And I was like “Yeah, actually I do.” And so the irony is that this was a long weekend that was called Family Weekend. And I said to my darling husband: “Leon, it’s a code red. I need some personal time and I am going to check myself into a really lovely suite at the Lord Nelson. I’m going to go there and I just need to be there by myself for three days. Can you understand?” And he absolutely could understand. We went to see Black Panther,  actually, it was great movie. He took the boys home and I went to my suite and it was an incredible three days. The first day I just had, you know, went for walks. Went to see a movie, had a bath, read, had some nice food. It was amazing. And then the next two days I really started to focus and do some of the work that was calling to me, but that I hadn’t previously had the focus to do. And when I left that retreat, I felt more centred, more focused and in a place of powerful leadership that I know I would not have been able to get to without that weekend of episodic selfishness.

Now you may feel that “look I couldn’t possibly take you know three days, Eleanor, I’m actually a single mum and there’s no way I could do that or I don’t have the budget to do that.” Listen moments of episodic selfishness can be 30 minutes an hour long. But the point is, it is that it is the call that you make to hold your goals, your dreams, your intentions, to the forefront. And that, in that time and for that period, you subjugate everything else and you hold your intention sovereign in that moment. That’s what episodic selfishness is about. And that’s what we as women leaders need to master to truly make the contribution that we are here to make. And a big part of that means unlearning the lesson that it’s wrong to be selfish that has been handed down generation to generation. And the other thing that we need to learn is that it is, it is unattractive, unfair, and unfit for us as women to say no and set boundaries. And that’s where the free training you know that I’ve talked about at the beginning of this episode comes into play.

You might be thinking: “OK Eleanor, I get that I have to be more selfish. How exactly do I do it?” Well you know you might not be in a situation where you can take up a three day personal retreat all at once that I get it but I didn’t get there overnight either. I got there through years of asking myself what I wanted and effectively setting boundaries to get there. Boundaries were not something I was comfortable setting. As a younger woman, they’re something I’ve had to learn to do as I have matured and stepped into my power as a leader and you can absolutely do the same thing. So, learning how to set effective boundaries is one of the most important gifts you can give to yourself and I’m going to help you along the way with a free masterclass. It’s called Stop the Coffee Dates: the Boundary Setting Masterclass for Women. So this is a free training that I’m going to be offering. You’re going to learn why you need to say no to the request for coffee dates, brain picks, everything you know that people are asking of you. Why you need to start saying no more than you say yes. Why you need to identify and execute only what is absolutely essential. And why it is absolutely essential that you say no to everything that’s not absolutely essential. And what you can do with the rest of your to do list right.

So there are five different areas where you need to set boundaries right now. We’re going to show you what those five areas are, and give you some really elegant tactical strategies to start setting down those boundaries. And how to navigate the fall out that comes when powerful women start to say no. It’s going to be interactive, engaging, no holds barred. You’re going to have the opportunity to ask questions and get some feedback and spacing is very limited on our online training courses that are free, so reserve your spot today and you can head on over to Eleanor Beaton dot com forward slash unlearn to sign up. Eleanor Beaton dot com forward slash unlearn. All right. Thank you so much for joining us. Remember, successful women are more selfish. You’ve got to reframe selfishness as focus. Until next time, stay fierce.

Fierce Feminine Leadership is executive produced and hosted by Eleanor Beaton. Technical producer is Kate Astrakhan. Content producers are Adrianne Alexander and Marie Hanifen. Special thanks to Kelly Fillman and Amy Bleser. Find Eleanor on LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram @ Eleanor Beaton. Thank you for listening. Stay fierce.

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