Girls Talk

High-Achieving Women Have These 6 Personality Traits. Do You?

According to a new study, women business leaders share many of the same characteristics, including a healthy resiliance to anxiety. Josephine Fairley agrees and offers her relaxation tips to ensure you’re not too stressed for success


None of us wants a leader who runs around like a headless chicken.

What we’d like is a swan of a boss: serene on the surface (although probably paddling like hell to stay afloat beneath). Panic and unease can spread like wildfire through any working environment, making it tough for anyone to focus. And in my experience, the best leaders refrain from showing any cracks that appear.

Now it’s emerged that ‘stress tolerance’ – the ability to feel (or appear) comfortable in a high-pressure environment – is actually one of the key personality traits of high-performing women, according to a recent study by Caliper, a talent management firm.

They asked 85 women at senior vice president level or above to take a personality assessment, and a series of surveys which explored their success in different performance areas. The aim? To find out what makes a woman flourish in the modern workplace.

And actually, I think their findings – the six traits that high-performing women have – are bang on. Especially when it comes to the importance of being resilient and handling stress.

How many of the following do you tick the box for?

1) Assertiveness

Are you straight-up, when it comes to dealing with people? Can you put your foot down, or are you a walkover? Pussycats, frankly, are probably going to stay curled up in their basket in the corner.

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To be successful, you need to be able to state your case – rationally, not emotionally – and put yourself out there.

2) Aggressiveness

So often used as a negative word, directed at women in business. But vital for success.

Not shout-y, make-your-team-scared-to-open-their-mouths, trample-all-before-you aggressive; this is having the chutzpah to move projects on, when you find yourself pushing at closed doors (as so often happens).

It’s ‘constructive’ aggression, if you like – because it has to be balanced by…

3) Empathy

Being able to listen to and understand the feelings of others. We’re all human, with frailties, fears and weaknesses, as well as opinions that deserve airing. Sure, people have problems and worries, and those must be addressed and acknowledged, and treated with tenderness. But where the successful woman probably makes her mark is being understanding, without allowing sentimentality to throw everything off-course.

4) Ego strength

This does not translate as: such- a-big-head-that-you-can’t-get-it-through-the-office- entranceway. Instead, it’s having confidence in your ability to overcome challenges.

There’s nothing arrogant about knowing your strengths and displaying them.

5) Energy

Well, I know I tick this particular box several times over – because I work on it, all the time. We all have to: it’s 2015.

In order to bring the required enthusiasm and team-inspiring vitality to the office, I know I must ‘fill my tank’: good food, plenty of exercise, an occasional massage and enough down-time that I never feel martyred about a heavy workload (because everyone, but everyone, hates working for someone who’s bleating about the long hours they have to put in, glaring malevolently as their team heads home to their families, with a feeling they’ve been abandoned at the coalface).

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Leaders tend only to feel like that when they’re knackered; most of the time, the challenge itself is re-energising.

6) Stress tolerance

At times, you’re going to feel more resilient than others. (When you’re getting enough TLC, your stress tolerance is probably Teflon-esque.)

But, I’ll confess: with an entirely new team, a new office and assignments, my stress tolerance has been rocky lately – so I’ve had to work on that, too.

It’s about finding fixes that work. In my case, an arsenal that includesAromatherapy Associates Inner Strength Rollerball (fortitude in a little bottle), and Relax Deep Bath and Shower Oil. Anything from the This Works Deep Sleep range. And if all else fails? Bach Rescue Remedy. (It beats gin, in the working environment).

But it also helps, I think, to identify what really tips you over the edge – and in my case, it’s technology failure. Gadgets running out of juice. Dongles not dongling. Trains on which the charging stations are so close to the tables that you can’t actually plug in your laptop.

Where we often fall down, according to Caliper’s psychologist Thomas E. Schoenfelder, is buying-in to negative stereotypes about women in leadership. We should be focusing on our own ambitions, he asserts, rather than any lingering idea that being the boss isn’t, somehow, ‘feminine’.

In short, following the rules, being less assertive and reacting badly to stress make us more likely to banjax ourselves – and miss out on the top jobs.

The best defence against those behaviours? ‘Self-awareness’, says Schoenfelder

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By Josephine Fairley


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