We’ve seen it many times but didn’t know there was a name for it. You’ve seen it too: the good employee, often (but not always) a woman, who toils away in obscurity. She keeps her head down never says no to an assignment or overtime or more work piled on. She does an excellent job, almost never complains, and never toots her own horn.
If you could read her mind, you’d see that she was taught from an early age that this is the road to success. Do a good job, and eventually, one day, you’ll get your happily ever after ending. But life is not a fairy tale, and hope is not a strategy to win recognition, pay raises, or the promotion you’ve waited for years.
According to a significant leadership post by Sarah Lloyd-Hughes, “This is Tiara Syndrome, coined by Carol Frohlinger & Deborah Kolb in Her Place at the Table and popularized in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. It’s the tendency to get your head down and do your job, expecting that one day someone will pop a tiara on your head, tell you’re a very good girl and that because you’re so wonderful, you’re the one who gets to marry Prince Charming (or get the promotion, or get the massive bonus, etc.).”
Lloyd-Hughes says the simplest solution to getting what you want is to ask for it. But it’s still very challenging for most women to make direct requests. They worry that they’ll sound too brash, selfish, or ambitious and put people off. They fear that they’re not good enough; if they were, someone would already have promoted them or given them a raise. They worry about rejection; it’s easier to suffer in silence than to ask and be told “no.”
The way to get better at asking for what you want is to practice. Sheryl Sandberg argues that the most significant barrier between women and success is themselves. She says, “Too many women get caught up in the ‘tiara syndrome’ where they expect to get rewarded for good work rather than seizing opportunities. The only way to change the game is by taking risks, choosing growth, challenging ourselves, and asking for promotions.”
There’s one exception to asking for what you want is the right thing: when what you want is permission. Sandberg often noted the difference between the questions asked of her at events by men and by women. “The men were focusing on managing a business, and the women were focusing on how to manage a career. The men wanted answers, and the women wanted permission and help.”
When Lloyd-Hughes spoke to women who did practice asking for what they wanted, she found they used a couple of effective techniques. One woman said she worked hard at not getting attached to the outcome. She asks but doesn’t stake her self-esteem or happiness on whether she gets what she wants. Another woman prepares by asking herself, “Who could do this better than me?” If the answer is “no one I know,” she goes for it.
If you fear rejection, you’re not alone. But you can change the way you feel. In his book, Rejection Free: How to Choose Yourself First and Take Charge of Your Life by Confidently Asking for What You Want, Scott Allan says that one of the lies we tell ourselves about rejection is that it’s about us. Most often, it’s not personal at all. “You think it is you, when in fact, it is the other person or the situation that is driving their choices at the time,” he writes.
Fear of rejection drives us to ask for less and settle for less. What if you could desensitize yourself to rejection? What if you could hear “no” and not feel pain or shame?
Sheryl Sandberg again: “Do not wait for power to be offered. Like that tiara, it might never materialize. And anyway, who wears a tiara on a jungle gym?”