[Ep#215] Navigating Success and Self-Imposed Barriers

Navigating Success and Self-Imposed Barriers 

My guest today says, “Women face a powerful barrier that we must break through to make it to bigger leadership roles. It is not the glass ceiling—it is the mirrored door. 

Joining me on today’s show is Ellen Taaffe.  

Ellen is a Clinical Associate Professor at the Kellogg School of Management, where she teaches Personal Leadership Insights and is the Director of Women’s Leadership Program. She spent 25 years with Fortune 500 companies holding the top brand management post at divisions of PepsiCo, Royal Caribbean, and Whirlpool Corporation.  

Ellen serves as an independent board director for two public and one private company boards, runs a leadership advisory consulting, speaking, and coaching business and is a TEDx speaker.  

She shares her insights on leadership, careers, and advancing women and inclusion through her writing and speaking in media like Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Business Insider, Washington Post, Bloomberg, and Kellogg Insight. 

On today’s show, Ellen is going to share:  

  1. Five strategies that help women succeed but also unintentionally sideline them     
  2. How childhood expectations help women succeed academically but carry self-judgment and hesitation later   
  3. Why women struggle to set boundaries in the workplace—and how to overcome people-pleasing behaviours in their professional and personal life   




Jump straight to these golden nuggets:

[00:04:27] Excellence delivered, fear of messing up.

[00:06:17] Differentiate work, ask for help, prioritize.

[00:10:14] Balancing needs, boundaries, and communication for success.

[00:16:10] Navigating identity in the workplace and beyond.

[00:17:38] Interviewing an organization: core values and authenticity.

[00:22:00] Importance for women to balance results and teamwork, avoid burnout, and pause for self-care and team connection.

[00:27:08] Hard work and self-promotion lead to success.

[00:28:58] Opportunities for feedback and growth in organizations.

[00:34:30] Choosing career goals requires tough decisions.

[00:36:16] Women must speak up, others will join.

[00:38:41] Frustrated coach seeks visibility and new clients.


Topic: Childhood Messages Shape Our Beliefs:

  • Ellen stressed the impact of messages learned in childhood on our beliefs and behaviors as adults.
  • Girls are often socialized to cooperate, avoid acting superior, and build connections, leading to increased approval and academic success. Boys, on the other hand, are challenged sooner and taught to move forward without certainty, which prepares them for uncertainty in adulthood.
  • Understanding these early messages can help us navigate the gray areas of the workplace.

Topic: Embrace Authenticity at Work:

  • We discussed the importance of being able to be our true selves in the professional environment.
  • It's crucial to consider our comfort level and whether it aligns with the company's culture.
  • Realizing our core values, skills, and uniqueness, and not hiding or changing them for an organization is essential.
  • Organizations should strive to create a supportive structure that allows individuals to thrive while embracing diversity of thought and experience.

Topic: Don't Be Afraid to Speak Up:

  • The fear of being seen as less ambitious or damaging our standing can often hold women back from voicing their thoughts and ideas.
  • However, speaking up encourages others to join in and share their perspectives.
  • Vulnerability and sharing can also help improve perceptions and understanding among teams.
  • It's vital for women to have the courage to speak out and make their voices heard.


“Women face a powerful barrier that we must break through to make it into bigger leadership roles. But guess what? It is not a glass ceiling.”

— Ellen 00:00:5900:01:08

“Elevating Women in Leadership: ‘She has so many insights to share around leadership, careers, and advancing women, as well as con inclusion through her writing and speaking in media.'”

— Ellen 00:01:5200:02:01

The Importance of Focusing on What Truly Matters: “Yeah. That makes so much sense because there's going to be some aspects that you do need to know, and those are the key things that you may need to focus on. But all the other things, as you say, I mean, if they're available and you've got them at hand, sure, they can support, but they're not critical. And I think sometimes, as you say, unless we have that understanding around, well, what do what really do I need to focus on and have in place to then be able to share and make a decision. And what can I continue to make a decision on and know that that's not going to been so critical that it may stop a project or something from happening?”

— Ellen 00:07:3200:08:12

Gender Roles and Emotional Labor: “There are some men I've done the MBTI, and there's often the thinkers and then there's the feelers. You know? And often women have the feelers, and so and the men are the thinkers. You know?”

— Ellen 00:12:3100:12:38

The Importance of Authenticity in the Workplace: “When you go for an interview, you are interviewing the organization as much as they are interviewing you. For an organization to want you to hide your core values, it will often mean the best of you is not able to show up. And who wants to work in an organization where you cannot be the best of yourself?”

— Ellen 00:18:1800:18:26

The Importance of Entrepreneurs in Organizations: “Don't create such a structure that will stifle their skills and ability because they will leave, and you really can lose an incredible component of a team that can really continue to position your business, you know, at the forefront when it comes to innovation, change, and implementation of better, you know, systems and or whatever it may be, so just thought I'd share that too.”

— Ellen 00:20:2600:20:50

Leadership Insights: “I remember hearing a story about a woman leader who wanted the best for her team. So, what she used to do was close the door and do all of the problem solving and the challenge handling behind a closed door because she did not want to, had that inhibit her team.”

— Ellen 00:24:3000:24:46

The Importance of Open Conversation: “Just to be mindful about what we think about what's going on, ask. You know? Had that open conversation with whether you're the leader or a team member because there may be some, some insights and some laughter when we realize what someone's why is, and they're not so driven and so forth.”

— Ellen 00:26:4000:27:01

The Importance of Communicating Goals and Achievements: “Often, if we're not clear on that ourselves, how are we able to communicate that with our leadership so that they know, oh, well, this particular person wants to go here. There may be opportunities for learning and development, but what you've just said in another area, which I think a lot of people don't do, or they didn't when I was in the career industry, is having your updated document of successes and achievements, whether you were involved, a team was involved, have that. You know, what was happening, walked contribution, you know, you and a part of the team, and what was the result for the organization.”

— Ellen 00:29:1400:29:48

Gender Equality in the Workplace: “And so often as women, we have to have the courage to be able to speak out, you know, speak up about it, and, you know, you kinda think, well, if I speak up and then everyone else is gonna kind of know, yes, but I bet you as soon as you start to speak out, others will come to you.”

— Ellen 00:36:4600:36:55

Contact Ellen:

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