Attention, high-achieving women: Stop being 'good students' at work!

March 13, 2013 at 9:11 AM ET

Tara Sophia Mohr is the founder of the Playing Big leadership program for women. Her "Women’s School to Work Guide" shows women how to shake up their good student habits to begin playing bigger at work. Here’s an excerpt:

In my work helping women build successful, fulfilling careers, I started to see something quite interesting: women who had been high achievers in school were finding that the very skills that served them well in school were holding them back in their careers.

Success at work demands different competencies than success at school, and many women aren’t aware that they need to shift their approach.

Below are five new skills women need in the workplace — skills that tend to be the very opposite of what we learned in school.  

  1. Influence authority. In school, each class brought a new authority figure — the teacher — who had unique rules, requirements and preferences. As students, we get really good at figuring out what each authority figure wants and to provide it. Yet to have brilliant careers, we must learn to not only please the authority figures — but to challenge and influence too. Today, when you hold a different view than the authority figure in your midst, see how you can influence him or her by diplomatically sharing your point of view.
  2. Improvise. In school, we learn how to prepare: how to study for the test, to do the reading the night before, to be ready with the answer when the teacher asks for it in class. This can lead us to feel confident only when we’ve had a lot of time to prepare. Yet brilliant careers require that we think on our feet again and again. Get as good at improvisation as you are at preparation. Today, embrace an opportunity to improvise at work.
  3. Get uncomfortable. In school, you probably got comfortable with the routine of studying, test-taking, paper writing, without having to take too many risks along the way to succeed. In our careers, we have to get comfortable with risk-taking, with feeling afraid and moving forward anyway, with leaving our comfort zones. Today, take one action that stretches you out of your comfort zone and that will help you realize your professional dreams.
  4. Self-promote. In school, if you did good work, you usually got a good grade, but in our careers, we’ve got to do good work and make sure people know about it. This can be an uncomfortable stretch for women, because we don’t want to come off as arrogant or as taking credit away from others. Today, find one opportunity to graciously let others know about one of your recent successes.
  5. Look inward. School taught you how to absorb external information (from a book or a teacher’s lesson) and then regurgitate that information back out. As you move to more senior levels in your career, you’ll need to turn your focus inward and learn to trust what you already know. Today, notice when you default to looking outward for the answers, and turn inward to see where your thoughts lead you instead.

Want more? Go to to download Tara's free "Women's School to Work Guide."