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Business, Gender Edition Change the Script

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By: Sandra Sdraulig AM •  4 years ago •  

FILM AND TELEVISION HAVE ALWAYS BEEN GREAT PASSIONS OF MINE AND UNTIL RECENTLY I HAD NO INTENTION OF WORKING IN ANY OTHER SECTOR. IT’S THE REALM OF DREAMS, IDEAS AND A PLETHORA OF SENSORY EXPERIENCES.

Sandra Sdraulig Intro

S

o in the language and practice of Joseph Campbell, who inspired the George Lucas Star Wars series, “I followed my bliss”. Twenty-five fabulous years later, which culminated in an Order of Australia for leadership, I started asking: What next?

As a film executive, I was an enabler, supporting creatives and crews to either show or tell their stories. These uniquely Australian stories were crafted for audiences and mostly appeared in cinemas or on the TV screen.

A fascination for stories eventually inspired me to want to explore another realm. I started to recognise this other realm as the private stories in our head. They were stories that often struggled to be told and were never intended to find an audience. These stories would remain untold not because they weren’t critically important to us, they were, but because we often didn’t have the courage to tell them and sometimes didn’t have the awareness or the inclination to admit to them, even, and especially, to ourselves.

I had enjoyed the privilege of observing, supporting and employing many extraordinarily talented, inspiring and dedicated women throughout my film and television career. It wasn’t long before I noticed a significant disconnect, between their skills or capabilities on the one hand, and their confidence on the other. It was a disjunction that mostly unraveled only in private conversation and after trust and rapport were established in the confidentiality of one-on-one interactions. This is when I started to recognise the potential impact of executive coaching, not that I described it in those terms.

My observation was that it was these internal stories that seemed to create barriers preventing some women from doing what they were utterly capable of doing. It was unnerving to find that this applied equally to successful as well as less experienced women, which meant that we were significantly losing the benefit of contributions from women across the spectrum. Psychotherapy identifies these internal stories as Inner Voices and I had observed that the Inner Critic was particularly keen to attach itself to women!

A key reason I was prompted to establish Through the Roof: Executive Coaching Women was that I wanted to see more women in leadership positions. I became increasing interested in whether it was possible to change internal stories, metaphorically speaking, in the way that I had observed writers incrementally finessing and reframing the narrative of a script. I had always been interested in exploring the process of making conscious what was unconscious and to understand the text as well as the subtext.

I decided that my focus would be one-on-one executive coaching sessions. Although workshops and other training programs were helpful starters, my experience suggested that coaching, particularly a method connected to a strengths-based philosophy to adult learning, was more likely to deliver the most immediate, impacting and sustaining results. And I wanted results.

Actually, I felt we needed results.


Although reports and surveys from many and varied industries have found that women have been graduating from university at higher rates than men for the past 25 years and are keen to become senior executives, statistics on female executives in companies and on boards consistently report that female representation has improved only slightly over the past 10 years. This is mirrored in the industries of my focus, being law and the screen industry as well as the creative sectors. It is bewildering to think that we are back to 1970’s level of p
articipation in some areas.

Sandra Sdraulig 1

I don’t want to understate the fact that there are a complex set of circumstances that contribute to these results. Two of the most discussed are the impact of child rearing on a woman’s career and the inflexibility of some work environments. As a former executive and now an executive coach however, my observations about the impact of the Inner Critic was starting to make me wonder if it also deserved significant status. In my coaching practice it increasingly captured my attention.

The importance of getting to know your Inner Critic

The way we see ourselves is often shaped by our inner voices. It affects not just the way we see ourselves but influences the way that we encourage others to see us too. I wanted to get to know the Inner Critic. I was meeting it far too often in coaching conversations that I was having with women.

The way we see ourselves is often shaped by our inner voices. It affects not just the way we see ourselves but influences the way that we encourage others to see us too.

On the positive side, the Inner Critic is the voice of caution that comes in to protect us from the judgments of others. It contends that if we “get in first” they won’t be able to have as much impact. It stops us from doing things that could make us feel ashamed or that might make us look foolish. However, sometimes it grows out of proportion to its requirements.

Recognising the Inner Critic

In the worst of circumstances, the Inner Critic appears with an authority that simply leaves no room to question. It becomes the rule maker and an expert on everything. This means that it is vigilantly observing and telling us what’s wrong with us and what’s wrong with the way we are doing things. It demands that we adjust our behaviour accordingly. This also feeds into an, often paralysing, perfectionistic side of us that believes in the notion of a “right way”. In this context what we are doing never becomes right enough.

The Inner Critic is also high on judgment and thinks that not only are we judging ourselves but that colleagues and friends are also constantly judging us as well. It takes the subtle judgments of others, amplifies them and knows how to convert a small incident into a catastrophe.

Some of its favorite buzzwords are ‘failure’, ‘terrible’ and ‘mistake’. If your project doesn’t get supported or you don’t get that job or win the argument, you’re a failure. It rarely sees mishaps as course corrections, rather it prefers to see them as patterns. An isolated incident becomes chronic, a symptom of something much more telling and all embracing.

Working with the Inner Critic

Working with coachees who have a loud Inner Critic starts with helping them to recognise it. Some become so accustomed to Inner Critic chatter that they forget it’s there. Inner Critics often hide like some of the best film music scores. It’s background music, constantly present, tugging at your emotions but in a way that makes you forget it’s there.

The key is making what is seemingly invisible, visible. I often recommend the practice of meditation to assist this process. Meditation is sometimes misunderstood to be connected to relaxation but it’s more accurately an effective way to increase observation and awareness of both internal and external thought patterns and behaviours.

A simple but effective way of encouraging a commitment to a daily meditation and observation practice is recommending apps. There are plenty meditation apps available free of charge. Some of the more sophisticated offer packages that change daily.

Supporting coachees to listen to the Inner Critic is the first step to recognising it. I usually start by asking them to try to name it when it appears and to explore what it looks like. What does it sound like? What’s the tone of its voice? Does it sound like someone they recognise, a colleague, a boss, a parent or sibling? Why do they think it’s there? What are its motives? How long has it been there? If it’s been there for quite some time, have circumstances changed such that it has outlived its value?

The recognition process can also take the form of trying to physically objectify the Inner Critic. One method of doing so is to add a third chair in the room and ask the couchee to give voice to the Inner Critic from that chair. This can be a powerful and an amusing way of drawing attention to the absurdity of what the Inner Critic is saying and thereby reducing the force of its hold. This process can be strengthened by adding a fourth chair, the Chair of the Champion and similarly asking the client to talk about the same issues from the perspective of a tremendous supporter, a champion.

We often make the mistake of thinking that the Inner Critic is us. It’s not. This view just tightens its grip. I always point out that the fact that ‘someone’ is listening to it, of itself, serves to remind us that we are not the Inner Critic. We are the someone that is listening.

The aim of identifying the inner critic is not to stop it, but to observe it, try to develop a different relationship to it and work out whether it is trying to protect us or hold us back.

The aim of identifying the inner critic is not to stop it, but to observe it, try to develop a different relationship to it and work out whether it is trying to protect us or hold us back. Too often I see it is as the paralysing voice of self-doubt that stops, women in particular, from taking risks, from contributing at a greater level and from owning and living their strengths.

The Inner Critic is one character in a script about gender issues that may have started off as a superhero but has quite possibly transformed into a villain. I’m making no apologies for calling in the “big guns” to undertake a rewrite of the voices of the Inner Critic that look more like feature films, My Brilliant Career and Thelma & Louise but with an ending that has them both gliding into a sea of possibilities. 

SANDRA SDRAULIG AM

Sandra Sdraulig AM is the founder of Through the Roof: Executive Coaching Women, and is an accredited Executive Coach with more than 20 years experience in the film, TV and digital media industry where she developed a reputation for innovation and delivering exceptional results within complex and ever-changing companies.

In 2012 she was awarded an Order of Australia (AM) for her leadership. She chairs the Adelaide Film Festival and is Vice President of The Natalie Miller Fellowship, which inspires future female leaders.

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