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Book Review: Unwritten Rules - Women Need to Know about Leading in Today's Organizations

By Sara Bedal |

Title:Unwritten Rules: What Women Need to Know about Leading in Today's Organizations
Author:Lynn Harris
Publisher:Lynn Harris

Don't let the stiletto pump on this book's front cover turn you off: There's plenty of good advice inside -- whether you like high heels or not.

In Unwritten Rules, Montreal-based organizational development consultant Lynn Harris explores why there is such a dearth of women in powerful positions in organizations. (And there still is, according to the "Catalyst Census," which highlights that women held only 14 per cent of board seats at Financial Post 500 companies in 2009.)

"For Harris, it all comes down to four unwritten rules that "aren't explicitly acknowledged in organizations" and "are rarely, if ever, talked about in job interviews." But, she writes, "We all know they exist."

She has organized the book into three distinct sections. In the first, she lays clear the unwritten rules, entrenched in the 1950s:

  • Senior leaders are available anytime and anywhere.
  • Senior leaders have a linear career path.
  • Senior leaders are competitive.
  • Senior leaders promote themselves.

These rules create an uneven playing field for women seeking senior leadership positions, especially for those who want flexibility to raise a family. Still, plenty of women aspire to both so the book's second section explains what they need to know to work effectively within the unwritten -- if unfair -- rules that aren't likely to disappear anytime soon. Here, Harris covers everything from strategic influencing skills, mentoring and coaching to physical energy, emotional intelligence and authenticity.

It's her chapter on authenticity that readers will find particularly illuminating - regardless of whether they aspire to corporate heights. Here, Harris provides a practical framework for how individuals can be true to themselves when faced with situations where their values conflict (career versus family, collaboration versus assertiveness, for example). The important thing is to be able to recognize that our values don't necessarily change but their hierarchy can, depending on the situation.

There's something for everyone in this well-researched book -- including those who refuse to buy into the unwritten rules. The book's third section, "Corporate Refugees", features excerpts from interviews with women from around the globe who abandoned corporate life to chart more meaningful adventures.

Not surprisingly, more than half of them chose to start their own businesses.

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