Becoming the Boss, In Spite of the Odds

When I met with Fatma Lotfy, she was the First Deputy Chairman and Managing director of Bank of Alexandria in Egypt, one of the largest banks in the country with around 200 branches and $.6.5 billion USD in assets.

She had recently been awarded the GTM/Credit Suisse Best Female CEO Award Egypt. I was ushered into her office by her male assistant and as we talked about her business, I noticed her management team was composed only of men.

Your first impression of Mrs. Lofty is that she is elegant, professional and polished. As you begin to talk with her, her expertise, insights and ease with power very quickly show you why she’s been at the helm of two very large financial institutions. Today, she is Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of Bank Audi, Egypt, the Egyptian subsidiary of one of the largest banks in the Middle East.

Many, especially in the West, find it difficult to believe I’ve encountered executive leaders like Fatma Lofty in emerging markets all over the world. We more often read about is how difficult it is for men in developing countries to promote or accept a woman boss and how hard it is for women to get to the top of businesses in developing countries (and in the West).

Here are some insights from my coaching, researching and studying women (and men) who have been promoted and are in management positions:

  1. First, decide you want to be the/a boss.
  2. Recognize that your opportunity for advancement is directly linked to where you work and who you work for. If you work in an environment that does not support the leadership and advancement of women, take your skills, expertise and self elsewhere where there is a chance to be recognized.
  3. I am sorry to have to say this, but you may have to work even harder than your male colleagues. The women I talk to all tell me that they do. But its not just the working harder that’s important – its what you work on that’s key. As often as possible choose:
    • Revenue generating work vs administrative or staff tasks
    • Higher risk, higher impact assignments versus safe ones
    • Strategic vs. tactical assignments
  4. Make your contributions and results known either by doing so yourself or having your sponsor do so on your behalf.
  5. Look around you and identify who is getting promoted and why. What can you learn from others’ success and incorporate to achieve your goals.
  6. The first three items on this list are must dos, but what will tip the scales in your favor are doing the following types of things that are less evident and less tangible but equally and just as importantly necessary:
    • Exhibit leadership in your thoughts, actions, ideas and input. Share new, thought-provoking perspectives.
    • Go beyond what you are asked to do and the framework of your position. Think about and act on areas of your company that can be improved or enhanced.
    • Have and portray leadership and executive presence in the way you talk, present yourself and the attitudes you convey.
    • Be a good team member and build relationships among your colleagues male and female. This is the seat and basis of your power. You can only be promoted if you are trusted, respected and seen as influential among your peers and management team.
    • Understand and be able to successful operate within the culture and politics of your company and industry.
  7. When you feel confident that your exhibiting and exemplifying the above – ask for the opportunity to be the manager.

No matter where you live, don’t be deterred or let anyone tell you that you won’t or can’t be the manager or boss because you are a woman. If you want to be in charge, look for the opportunity and take action to capitalize on it. We’d love to come visit you in your office and learn about your success!

Are you the/a boss where you work? How did you get there?

Rania Habiby Anderson

Rania Habiby Anderson

Founder & President

Expert on the advancement of business women. International speaker and author. Executive coach. Former corporate leader. Angel investor. Author of UNDETERRED: The Six Success Habits of Women in Emerging Economies.
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