Book Review: ‘Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office’ by Lois Frankel

Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers. Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D. Warner Business Books. 2004. 269 pages including Coaching, and Workshops and Training Programs, books and website resources. ISBN: 0446531324. Available from

This is a book that I wish had been available to me 20 years ago, when I first started out in the business world. As I read through the examples of ‘typical mistakes’ women make, I found myself nodding over and over again. Yes…that was me. I did that. Twenty years later I’ve benefitted from the experience of making those mistakes and learning from them, but I have a lot of regrets at opportunities missed. It’s much better for a career woman to learn the pitfalls and simply not make those mistakes at all.

This book, therefore, is a must-read for all career women, whether you’re just starting out or stuck half-way down your career path.

Author Lois P. Frankel is an executive coach and corporate trainer. She’s compiled this book out of 25 years worth of experience as a coach, trainer, human resource professional, and psychotherapist.

Her mantra is simple: “Success comes not from acting more like a man, as some might lead you to believe, but by acting more like a woman instead of a girl.” Leaving the sexism out of it (for as I said, men can benefit from much of this advice as well) success comes from acting like a mature adult.

But the target audience for this book is, obviously, women, and Frankel makes her point quite clearly in the beginning:

“From early childhood, girls are taught that their well-being and ultimate success is contingent upon acting in certain stereotypical ways, such as being polite, soft-spoken, compliant, and relationship-oriented. Throughout their lifetimes, this is reinforced through media, family, and social messages. It’s not that women consciously act in self-sabotaging ways; they simply act in ways consistent with their learning experiences…women are continually bombarded with negative reinforcement for acting in any manner contrary to what they were taught in girlhood. In short, women wind up acting like girls, even when they’re grown up.”

And she identifies the typical female behavior:

“You know how we women can be – more critical of ourselves than necessary and reluctant to take credit when it’s due.”

This book contains 101 typical mistakes executive women make. They don’t make all 101 mistakes-but they do make more than one. And by correcting these mistakes, the path to a successful and fulfilling career is opened before you. You’ll still have to do the work, and be the best that you can be.

The book is divided into eight chapters:

1) Introduction
2) How You Play the Game
3) How You Act
4) How You Think
5) How to Brand and Market Yourself
6) How You Sound
7) How You Look
8) How You Respond

In the opening chapter, Frankel provides a self-assessment test of 49 questions, using a scale of 1 to 3, for the reader to learn about herself. And then she explains what the test scores mean. Depending on how you do, you’ll know in what areas you’ll need to approve

In each of the following chapters, Frankel presents several real-life examples of mistakes women make…why the action is bad or sends the wrong message, and then several coaching tips on how to not make that mistake in future.

Some behavioral mistakes she examines:

Mistake 4: Doing the work of others
Mistake 8: Waiting to be given what you want.
Mistake 12: Holding your tongue
Mistake 34: Viewing men in authority as father figures
Mistake 46: Minimizing your work or position
Mistake 61: Using minimizing words
Mistake 73: Smiling inappropriately
Mistake 74: Taking up too little space
Mistake 88: Believing others know more than you
Mistake 89: Taking notes, getting coffee, and making copies
Mistake 90: Tolerating inappropriate behavior
Mistake 93: Putting the needs of others before your own
Mistake 95: Allowing yourself to be the scapegoat
Mistake 98: Being the last to speak
Mistake 99: Playing the gender card
Mistake 101: Crying
“You had to know I would get here sooner or later. To rephrase a line from Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball – or the office.”

Some examples:

Mistake 11: Protecting Jerks
…Greta is a good example of how women protect jerks. She works as a regulatory specialist on Wall street. Her job is to ensure that trades are lawful and within the guidelines established by her nationally known firm. Greta reports to a jerk. He knows nothing about the regulations, but it doesn’t stop him from continually telling her how to do her job-and often giving her and others the wrong information that could create substantial liability for the company. Despite Greta’s attempts to tell him he’s wrong, he insists that she follow his directives.

When the department vice president asked why so many errors were made on several recent trades, she refused to say she was simply following the instructions of her boss. As a result, her performance review moved her down a notch on the rating scale, and her pay was reduced accordingly. Her efforts to protect her boss not only backfired on her, but also put the company in jeopardy of being fined for regulatory violations.

Coaching Tips
* When you get blamed for the actions of some jerk, don’t hesitate to redirect your accuser to the real source (which is what Greta should have done.) Try saying something like, “I can see why you would be upset over this. Why don’t you speak with Christ about it to find out why he wanted it done that way?”
* When the jerk is your boss, it’s time to look for another job. …Employees don’t change bosses’ behaviors. So stop wishing he or she will change and put your own needs first.

Mistake 46: Being modest
…Helena provides a great example of being much too modest. As director of executive development, she and her team are responsible for performing management assessments, designing individualized development programs for each top member of management, and providing executive coaching. When her company merged with another firm, the size of her job nearly doubled, yet the size of her team remained the same. Nonetheless, she found creative ways to get the job done with the people available to her.

During her annual performance review, Helena’s boss commended her for the extra effort she put in and gave her a generous bonus. Pleased that he’d recognized her good work, she modestly responded, “It wasn’t anything.” She had gone into the meeting wanting to bring up the need for additional staff, but when he complimented her and gave her the bonus, she was completely thrown off kilter and failed to parlay his recognition into a marketing opportunity. As a result of her modesty, she had to come up with another strategy for requesting more head count since getting the job done “really wasn’t anything.”

Coaching Tips
* Completely, totally and permanently erase the phrase oh, it was nothing from your vocabulary.
* When reporting accomplishments, give them the import they deserve. Helena should have said something like, “It took everyone on the team working long hours and weekends, but I’m proud of what we did and I’m glad you appreciate it.”
* When given a compliment, look the person in the eye and respond with a simple, “Thank you.”

Frankel writes well, with a sense of humor, and her advice is good advice that you can use. It’s not about perceiving men as enemies, rather than as competitors or teammates, or getting more than equal rights. It’s simply about being an adult in an adult world. (Indeed, apart from the chapter, “How you look” which goes into the details of makeup, hairstyles, etc., most of the advice given here is of use to men as well. ‘Nice girls’ may not get the corner office, but ‘nice guys’ finish last, also. WIth the aid of this book, nice people can finish at the top.

Highly recommended not only for the new businesswoman but for experienced businessmen and women.

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