How Women Rise: Summary & Review

how women rise book cover

How Women Rise (2018) teaches women how to overcome the most typical female stumbling blocks, so that they can advance in their career.


About the Authors: Marshall Goldsmith is a business executive coach, and Sally Helgesen is a leadership development consultant. They are both authors and both have a long experience coaching and training on career strategies and development.

Issues Men Have

  1.  Winning too much: The need to win at all costs and in all situations -when it matters, when it doesn’t, and when it’s totally beside the point-
  2. Adding too much value: The overwhelming desire to add our two cents to every discussion
  3. Passing judgment: The need to rate others and impose our standards on them
  4. Making destructive comments: The needless sarcasms and cutting remarks that we think make us sound sharp and witty
  5. Starting with “No,” “But,” or “However”: The overuse of these negative qualifiers which secretly say to everyone, “I’m right. You’re wrong”
  6. Telling the world how smart we are: The need to show people we’re smarter than they think we are
  7. Speaking when angry: Using emotional volatility as a management tool
  8. Negativity, or “Let me explain why that won’t work”: The need to share our negative thoughts even when we weren’t asked
  9. Withholding information: The refusal to share information in order to maintain an advantage over others
  10. Failing to give proper recognition: The inability to praise and reward
  11. Claiming credit that we don’t deserve: The most annoying way to overestimate our contribution to any success
  12. Making excuses: The need to reposition our annoying behavior as a permanent fixture so people excuse us for it
  13. Clinging to the past: The need to deflect blame away from ourselves and onto events and people from our past; a subset of blaming everyone else
  14. Playing favorites: Failing to see that we are treating someone unfairly
  15. Refusing to express regret: The inability to take responsibility for our actions, admit we’re wrong, or recognize how our actions affect others
  16. Not listening: The most passive-aggressive form of disrespect for colleagues
  17. Failing to express gratitude: The most basic form of bad manners
  18. Punishing the messenger: The misguided need to attack the innocent who are usually only trying to help us
  19. Passing the buck: The need to blame everyone but ourselves
  20. An excessive need to be “me”: Exalting our faults as virtues simply because they’re who we are

Issues Common to Both Men and Women

  1. Winning too much
  2. Telling the world how smart you are
  3. Claiming credit you don’t deserve
  4. Failing to give others proper recognition
  5. Using anger as a management tool
  6. Refusing to express regret
  7. Failing to express gratitude
  8. Passing the buck

Issues Women Have

  1. Reluctance to claim your achievements: false belief that not taking credit is “morally superior”. It’s not, and it’s just another excuse for staying in your comfort zone. The higher you go, the more this will hold you back
  2. Expecting others to spontaneously notice and reward your contributions: you must ask for what you want, let people know you intend to advance. The strategy of “doing good work, keeping your mouth shut and expecting others to notice you” will keep you stuck forever. And you will grow resentful of a job that might have otherwise fulfilled you
  3. Overvaluing expertise
  4. Just building rather than building and leveraging relationships: don’t fall for the black and white mindset that you’re either pure with “real” friendships or a conniver who uses people. The truth is that relationships are a give and take, and you will both gain more with a give and take (see: “the law of social exchange“)
  5. Failure to enlist allies from day one
  6. Putting your job before your career: some women feel such a strong loyalty to the team or their boss that they fail to take better opportunities somewhere else. Always remember to network outside of your team as well
  7. The perfection trap
  8. The disease to please
  9. Minimizing: taking less space, downplaying one’s own achievements
  10. Too much: showing too much emotions, or disclosing too much personal information
  11. Ruminating: women tend to ruminate and self-blame
  12. Letting your radar distract you: women have a tendency to pick up more cues from the environment, while men -and most businesses- appreciate laser-focus concentration

The Positives of The Negatives

Helgesen correctly notes that all the 12 harmful habits are also rooted in positive 

  • Habit 1, Reluctance to Claim Your Achievements, is rooted in modesty and a willingness to acknowledge the achievements of others
  • Habit 2, Expecting Others to Spontaneously Notice and Reward Your Contributions, is rooted in a reluctance to showboat or behave like a self-promoting jerk
  • Habit 3, Overvaluing Expertise, is rooted in a healthy respect for all the skills your job requires and the willingness to work hard to master them
  • Habit 4, Building Rather Than Leveraging Relationships, is rooted in the conviction that you should value others for who they are rather than how they can be of use to you
  • Habit 5, Failing to Enlist Allies from Day One, is rooted in the belief that you should not call on others for help until you’ve done your homework and know the parameters of your job
  • Habit 6, Putting Your Job Before Your Career, is rooted in the desire to demonstrate loyalty and commitment
  • Habit 7, The Perfection Trap, is rooted in the desire not to disappoint others, along with a commitment to making the world a better place
  • Habit 8, The Disease to Please, is rooted in an unselfish passion for making other people happy
  • Habit 9, Minimizing, is rooted in an awareness of other people’s needs and the wish to show them that you value their presence and insights
  • Habit 10, Too Much, is rooted in the quest to be authentic and connect with others based on shared experience
  • Habit 11, Ruminating, is rooted in the capacity for thinking deeply about what matters most to you
  • Habit 12, Letting Your Radar Distract You, is rooted in the ability to understand what others are feeling and a broad-scale, making you intuitive and empathic

These are all skills and traits the world needs more of.

Say the author:

These are good things. They are gifts you bring to the world (…) And since part of your success will ultimately be helping to make your organization, and the world, a better place, you don’t want to leave these strengths behind as you move higher and expand your scope.

The author ends by saying the world needs more women in positions of leadership. More women who also carry their feminine qualities and traits with them. 
And I agree with them.

Forget Deep Connection AND Useful Ones

The authors rightly point out that strong work relationships in which you both gain are not antithetic to deep and intimate relationships.

Women can carry their natural skills for deeper relationships and use them to their advantage at work.
They say:

Don’t get the idea that we’re urging you to undervalue your gift for intimacy or rein in your warmth and concern for others in favor of a more leveraged approach. Instead, you might think about how to bring your skills for forging deep connections into play as you seek also to become more intentional in building relationships that may be advantageous to you in the future. 

Women Make for Better Leaders of Teams

Men are, on average, more hellbent to win than women are.

That can make the transition from achiever to team and organization leader more challenging for them -or, I would add, more challenging for the team-.
These competitive men may remain stuck in competitive mode, failing to realize that now that now they also need to take care of the team. This leadership failure is something that Simon Sinek also talks about in “Leaders Eat Last“.

Women can make for better team leaders because they care less about winning for themselves, and more about winning for their teams and organizations.

Write the authors:

This reluctance to view money, position, and winning as chief arbiters of success is psychologically healthy for women and great for their teams and organizations.

On the other hand, as the authors point out, when women are too little invested in their own success, and when they go overboard in self-sacrificing, then they end up harming their own career chances and they never move up the corporate ladder.

This is not just theory, but shows up in the data as well. Say the authors:

Marshall’s experience conducting 360-degree feedback consistently shows that women in organizations are perceived as being more effective leaders than men.

Women: Redefine What Ambition Means

Many women, including very successful women, are afraid of defining themselves as ambitious.

And, if you listen to their definition of ambition, they might be right. All these women had very negative definitions for ambitions.
So the authors propose a different definition of ambition:

The desire to maximize your talents in the service of work you find worthwhile and rewarding.

If you let others color the word “ambition” with a negative meaning for you, you are allowing others to disempower you.

Change Beliefs to Change Behaviors

“How Women Rise” also goes into the dynamics of behavioral change. 

The authors say that many women have a few beliefs ingrained in them that prevents them from changing.
These beliefs include:

  • Ambition is a bad thing: see above
  • Being a good person means not disappointing others: some women let others control and manipulate them via their desire to please (see: soft power)
  • Women should always be role models for other women: an especially pernicious and dangerous belief for minority women, whom sometimes also carry the burden of “doing the right thing” for their race as well

More Wisdom

  • As a manager, focus on networking: doing an excellent job as a manager will only keep you stuck in the internally-facing position. You must network as a manager to make it to exec cadre
  • Pleasing for women works well early on, but it harms them later on: some women might not realize that pleasing is an issue early because it can actually help them. But as they advance in their career, it can become detrimental. Being unable to say no and enforce boundaries is especially risky for their emotional and physical well being
  • Avoid personal disclosure: women bond by disclosing personal information, while men bond doing things together. Women can end up oversharing at work, and looking unprofessional


On how a woman realized of her own problem from her own description (ie.: she was too much about the process of her work, and too little about politics):

“The first thing you need to know,” said Heidi, “is that I’m not like a lot of the guys here. They never think about the bank. They think about themselves, what they can get out of working here. They’re up front about it, so they spend more time angling for promotions than doing their jobs.
That’s not my way. Delivering the best work I can is more important to me than schmoozing or playing politics. I think more about this institution than I do about my own career.”

She paused for a moment, then added thoughtfully, “Maybe that’s my problem?”


“How Women Rise” is a great book to quickly understand what are the most stereotypical habits that hold women back.

I learned a ton from it and used some of this information for this course’s website.
Hence, I can highly recommend it.

Check the:

Or get the book on Amazon

Scroll to Top