balanced stones

How to get what you need to be a successful leader

By Kellie McElhaney

No matter who you are, if you want someone to do something for you, the best way to achieve your goal is to simply ask. Unfortunately, for many of us, asking for what we want is not an easy thing to do. We may be concerned that someone will think less of us if we express what it is we really want, or that we’ll miss out on an opportunity if we ask for something that might disqualify us from consideration. Or we may just be afraid that the other person will tell us “No.”

In my experience, while many leaders have a difficult time asking others for what they need to be successful, this is especially true for women who often balance family and work in a more obvious way than men.

Emilie Arel, CEO of Fullbeauty Brands and a Haas School alumna, explains that being a successful leader as a woman requires asking for what we want and what we deserve. When Emilie accepted her current role, she was clear about what she needed to be successful as a leader. With a long commute to and from work, and two children ages three and under who were in bed by 7:00 pm, it was particularly important to Emilie that she communicated that as CEO, she would need to be home before her kids went to bed.

Asking for what you need can also be in the company's best interest.

Says Emilie, “So much of it is deciding what we as women want—since we are often the ones balancing family and work—and then asking for it. The key is not feeling like this is a selfish act, but instead understanding that it’s in the best interest of the company for us to be productive and successful. Once you can phrase it that way, you can get more comfortable with it.”

Emilie recently interviewed and hired a woman for a VP position at Fullbeauty. During the course of the interview, the candidate said to Emilie, “I want to walk my kids to school every morning, so I’m not going to get to work until 9:30 am. That’s my nonnegotiable.” Emilie’s response? “Great—that’s fine.” Emilie knew that this minor concession wouldn’t have a negative effect on the office, and her new vice president would be happier, better able to focus on her work, more productive, and she would feel more fulfilled in her career and life over the long run—all great outcomes.

Remember: your boss and others with whom you work are not mind readers, so unless you tell them what you need to lead, you’re unlikely to get it. Instead of putting your own requirements on the back burner, be bold, be direct, and ask for exactly what you need to succeed as a leader—whatever it may be. You may be surprised just how often you’ll get it.

Learn more about the Center for Equity, Gender, and Leadership


Posted on October 18, 2018
Kellie McElhaney
Dr. Kellie McElhaney is on faculty as a Distinguished Teaching Fellow and the Founding Director of the Center for Gender, Equity and Leadership at Berkeley Haas. Launched in November, 2017, the center is focused on agitating, activating, and fiercely turning up the volume and velocity on diversity and inclusion leadership in the business leadership world. Berkeley Haas graduates over 1,000 leaders a year, and the center will ensure that Berkeley leaders are diversity fluent. It will also partner deeply with the powerbase that is the corporate sector. In 2003, Kellie founded the Haas School's Center for Responsible Business, solidifying corporate responsibility as a core competency and competitive advantage of the school. She has received the Founder and Visionary Award at Haas.