This month in the Wall Street Journal there was an intriguing and somewhat unsettling article, “Coaching Urged for Women.” The piece revealed that according to a new McKinsey & Company report “inadequate career development holds back female executives.” The report examined the kinds of career advancement barriers that women executives who hold management positions in large organizations now face.

According to the 2010 Catalyst Report, for example, only 37% of lower-level and middle managers are female, while women comprise only a scant 26% of vice-presidents and other senior managers at Fortune 500 companies. Many large corporations have organized women’s leadership programs to help their female managers grow and develop, and I frequently provide those kinds of seminars. But why is it that women who are corporate leaders or business entrepreneurs seldom take the initiative to invest in their own professional development and leadership presence enhancement? Based on my experience – both as a female Fortune 100 executive and as a coach and mentor to outstanding women leaders all over the world – I think that it is because women are conditioned, especially in the male-dominated corporate and business arena, to internalize a prediction of inevitable failure and identify with a core lack of leadership confidence.

We have all faced those challenges, haven’t we? But no matter how deeply we bury the issues beneath exterior layers of enthusiasm and determination, what we exude to the world around us is a noticeably diluted version of our true power, potential, and professional presence.

So here are five strategies for overcoming these insidious obstacles to optimize your success:

1) Don’t Just Set Goals, Create a Vision of Possibility
Every successful woman leader I know had to set a very unambiguous vision for herself and create a roadmap to get where she wanted to go. Think BIG. Use your imagination. Aim high. Fill in the details. Get a crystal clear view of where you want to be. Then chart a path from here to there. Advance step by step but never take your eyes off the prize.

2) Risky Business
We don’t want anyone telling us to sit quietly or not assert ourselves, but then we self-limit by burrowing into a comfort zone to nest. To go upward you must face your fear of the discomfort zone. That’s where positive change happens to get you to the next level. Maybe you endured a stressful divorce, took care of an elderly parent, experienced a career derailment, or were faced with other challenges you managed to overcome. Draw strength from those past experiences to keep going and keep growing. Take the risk.

3) Reluctant Role Model Syndrome
Sometimes as women we want the prestige and power of a bigger corporate game but are afraid of being viewed as an exemplary role model. But to play the part of a leader you must exude leadership presence. Are you graceful, confident, and poised? Become the kind of role model you would want to follow. Then others will automatically give you greater leadership responsibility and respect.

4) Exude an Authentic Leadership Brand
If you want to quickly gain greater career acceleration you need to become recognized through your own value-adding personal brand. Women typically have a tendency to focus on their minor weaknesses when polishing their brand or image. But it is a healthier and more effective approach to instead explore the depths of your unique strengths, talents, and skill sets. Stop sweating the small stuff and design an authentic leadership brand that leverages your one-of-a-kind attributes.

5) Persuasive Influence and Inspiring Authority
Learn to be more concise and to the point when trying to influence others, especially in the presence of male business colleagues. Doing so will train you to more quickly organize your thoughts and distill them into powerful, value-rich messages instead of losing your audience’s attention by being too wordy and round-about in your communication style. You’ll express yourself easier, with more potent communication skills that are highly persuasive and inspire authority – rather than simply demanding it.

I challenge you to remove your own self-imposed barriers and internalized obstacles and blossom into your dream career, starting right now. Too many high potential women have become their own glass ceiling, and now it is up to us to shatter our way through to stake our claim at the top!

Author's Bio: 

Sarah Hathorn, AICI CIP, CPBS is an internationally distinguished leadership development mentor, executive presence coach, personal image and branding consultant, and the founding CEO of her own company, Illustra Consulting.
A career acceleration expert, she created the innovative Predictable Promotion System, a 10-step proprietary process she uses to coach managers aspiring to be directors, directors seeking vice presidential promotions, and VP’s eager to ascend to the C-suite.
Sarah spent 25 years as a senior level executive for a Fortune 100 company and has more than 30 years of experience developing high potentials for faster promotions and salary increases. Her client list is a virtual “Who’s Who” of elite companies and top executives.

Sarah lives with her family in Atlanta where she enjoys pursuing her interests in philanthropic work, international travel, gourmet cooking, and music.