What holds Mid-career Men Back?

At the end of last year, I ran a survey to find out what behaviours hold mid-career men back. I listed a number of behaviours based on what we know to be issues: failing to delegate effectively, being defensive in the face of feedback, being too focused on BAU, failing to share credit or take responsibility for their actions. I was interested to see if the behaviours that mid-career men see as holding them back are different from those for women at this stage in their careers: lack of confidence, being overly conscientious, being too likeable, too apologetic, too loud (you get the picture).

 Of nearly 100 responses, three-quarters of which were from mid-career men, here’s what I found. There was little agreement from respondents on either which behaviours were most likely to hold them back, or which had the most impact. Those that were identified (marginally) as being the top three were: resisting change, failing to build diverse alliances and networks, and failing to delegate effectively.


When asked to add any other behaviours mid-career men believed held them back the responses were more telling:

 ·         Disinterest or unwillingness to participate in corporate politics

·         Lack of political savvy and inability to influence

·         Lack of self-belief

·         Family focus and the fatigue that comes with it

·         Lack of focus on personal learning and development

·         Not being able to have upfront and honest conversations

·         Becoming disenfranchised in their organisation and/or the world at large

·         Being labelled as ‘old school’, ‘boys club’, ‘sexist’ and not knowing how to respond

·         Burden of expectations that men are mentally strong and have all the answers

And a comment from one of the women respondents: “In over 30 years of coaching, I find that men are just as likely as women to be held back by passive behaviours such as lack of self-confidence, needing to avoid risk, etc”. This also tallies with my own experience and anecdotal comments from senior male leaders invited to the final workshops for the Growing Greatness Programme – Women’s Edition which I lead for mid-career women. The senior men acknowledged the issues the women participants highlight have also been true of their leadership journey including: feeling like imposters, struggling with negative self-talk, lacking confidence.

I believe the fundamental questions for women and men at mid-career today are about leadership identity: do I see myself as a leader? What kind of leader do I aspire to be? Why does this matter to me? What do I have to offer in the workplace of today? Who do I need to become to lead in this way? How am I showing up now and what do I want to change? And perhaps, most importantly of all: How can I get out of my own way to unlock my potential?

 I am not in any way under-playing the different experience women and men have in the workplace or the gendered career paths and cultures that exist. What I do know is that both women and men need psychologically safe spaces where women can meet with women and men can meet with men to explore these concerns before they can then join together to share their insights and learnings about what it means to be leaders and humans in the workplace today and how we can better support each other to lead truly inclusive teams and organisations.

To address this, I have created Growing Greatness – The Inclusive Edition. Over a series of workshops, group mentoring calls and self-reflection this programme offers spaces for men and women to speak in women and men only groups, and in mixed groups to explore the challenges they face. In addition, the programme addresses issues of mindset and leadership identity and encourages the development of clarity, confidence, and compassion for self and others on our leadership journeys.

 If you’d like to know more about the results of the mid-career survey or the Growing Greatness Programmes, please get in touch: anne@anneelderknight.com.

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