The Secret of Success

15/01/2017By Nicola Morgan
Nicola Morgan of Stella Potentia challenges some of our perceptions about successful women.
businesswoman listening

Since I left Corporate life I have been asked by many women at all stages of their careers for the secret to my success and how I found the courage to remain authentic to my values whilst holding senior positions.

I was struck by this notion that there may be a secret, closely guarded as if handed down from Mother to Daughter.  Furthermore I have been intrigued to hear of the belief that to be successful and not compromise our core selves it takes courage.

Might there be a secret, something that is kept, or meant to be kept unknown or unseen by others? Certainly when I reflect on behaviour and experiences through my own career and discuss the concept broadly I can find many examples either directly or indirectly where the notion occurs that an individual has achieved recognition or seniority by some means that isn’t transparent to an organisation. Provocatively I would suggest that on occasion these notions have been a consequence in part of an initiative such as sponsor program or in more recent years the introduction of targets and quotas.

My experience with senior women leaders as peers or clients has shown me that there are very few in the industries that I am exposed to who have found a style that leans more towards resonant leadership. In fact, those who have adopted this leadership style are seen as courageous.

The resultant feedback from direct reports and colleagues is a belief that in the main, it is a rare commodity to find a senior woman who supports other women, in fact often women even express a preference to work for a man rather than a woman.

In the examples I have in mind, the opaqueness of how a successful woman came to be is further compounded by an apparent reluctance on their part to share experience and stories of their journey. By way of an example: a Board level woman that I coached recently wanted to work on the key-note speech that she had been asked to deliver at a Women’s network conference. Her reluctance manifested itself in a real fear of being judged. As we explored where that fear came from she referenced her annual appraisals earlier in her career where her evaluators had commented on her passion for her work showing up as being “emotional”. The reality of that feedback meant my client constructed a leadership style for herself to disguise her passion so as to avoid further criticism for being emotional. The consequent result being that she hid her authentic self and was reluctant to tell her stories as she rose to be the only woman on the Board over the next 20 years.

A simple piece of feedback all that time ago had such a strong negative impact on her confidence to share, that it built up a pattern of behaviour that would have impacted not only herself but the organisation who lost an opportunity to learn from an aspirational role model.

Might it be therefore that the notion of the “secret” is a belief developed by women quite simply because there is a lack of information on “how”? Certainly if we examine what a belief is, it is confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof and as we are aware a belief can become a reality or the truth for ourselves very quickly. We also understand that organisational culture is developed through the stories we tell. If there are very few stories from our senior women role models we fill in the gap with our belief – there must be a secret that we do not know.

When I think of the answers I have been given when asking why it is hard to share our stories they have ranged from  “I had to make it here alone why cant others” or “I don’t get involved with Women’s networks as I don’t want to be labelled” to “No-one is interested in my story”. When I have had the opportunity to dive deeper I have heard powerful words: Lack of self-esteem, lack of confidence, impostor syndrome. Experts may argue that these feelings are the result of fear. Often a very real experience has led to this fear. Remember the example of my client whose fear became a driver of her actions throughout her career. So might it also be that the seemingly lack of sharing and support is quite simply because of our fears?

To my mind, we have a concrete opportunity here to explore what is behind the phenomenon that is the Secret. With a clearer understanding of the root courses we create the possibility to de-mystify it for ourselves and, in turn, remove the obstacles that prevent us from sharing our stories and step into being the role models that we can be. With technology and social media as enablers of how to share our stories we can create a truly powerful, positive paradigm shift.


Nicola Morgan

Nicola Morgan

Founder, Stella Potentia

Nicola is the founder of Stella Potentia, a transformation consultancy focusing on Leadership Transformation within organisations facing disruptive challenges. Prior to setting up Stella Potentia, Nicola spent 15 years with UBS AG, a top tier Global Bank where she held a number of senior Human Resources positions in London, New York and Switzerland. Additionally Nicola advises a number of local charity and not-for-profit organisations and is currently developing a social enterprise.

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