Book review: The psychology of successful women by Shona Rowan

I’ve known the author Shona Rowan (who is a high-performance coach, shares my love of psychology and understands professional services) for some time so I was keen to read her first book. I usually avoid anything that is aimed at women – yet this book contains some practical, straight-talking advice to help accelerate careers and maximise success. And many of the points apply equally to men. So here is a book review: The psychology of successful women by Shona Rowan.

Each chapter covers one of 10 themes that she encounters most often in her performance coaching work: confidence, personal branding, imposter syndrome, business relationships, perfectionism, assertiveness, public speaking, influence, career changes and resilience.

The introduction (“Set yourself up for success”) contains some useful coaching foundations: Clarify your vision of success, the power of written goals and success starts within (the power of your mind).

The author reflects on studies that women typically underestimate their intelligence and abilities and struggle with self-doubt more than men. She offers practical strategies to assist including: develop empowering self-talk, focus on your strengths rather than your development areas, watch out for comparisons, find supportive people and believe in yourself.

There’s guidance on analysing, building and refining your personal brand – which includes seeking feedback. The section on imposter syndrome made me smile when it said “I also hear many amazing, highly capable and experienced women say they just some more – time, training or qualifications, before they can do ‘that thing’ they really want to do”.

There’s guidance on building your professional network with numerous tips including “giver’s gain” (being generous), positive and using social media.  She tackles the dangers of perfectionism which causes anxiety and stress. The author argues that “Done is better than perfect” – although my way to frame this is “Good enough is good enough”.

The section on the fear of public speaking includes helpful tips – including the use of reframing (e.g. from scared to excited). The chapter on boundaries, assertiveness and people pleasing will resonate with many – especially those working in professional services marketing. And she offers some assertiveness techniques (see Assertiveness skills – getting what you want and saying “No” (

The themes in the section on impact, influence and visibility are similar to those covered in Book review – Brilliant personal effectiveness by Douglas Miller ( And visibility was the main topic of discussion at a recent workshop Be visible, assert and challenge and remember your goals ( There is some great content on presentation and public speaking skills.

After discussing how to build your resilience, the final chapter offers four final guiding principles:

  1. Take charge of your success and be the best you can be
  2. Don’t let a fear of judgement hold you back
  3. Seek help and support
  4. Enjoy the journey

At the end of each chapter there is a summary of the key takeaways and throughout the book there are helpful reflective questions that enable the reader to coach themselves.

I was surprised to learn that Shona was once a world-class ballroom and Latin American dancer (who represented Australia in 12 countries) and was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (an auto-immune, incurable and progressive disease that results in pain and immobility) and has undergone numerous surgeries as a result. Those factors alone are testimony to her resilience and determination.

It’s a short book that’s quick to read (143 pages) but it’s beautifully and elegantly written in a no-nonsense style. Shona uses storytelling techniques and is generous (and brave) in sharing many personal anecdotes to highlight key points. The book adopts a holistic approach combining internal (mindset, psychology) and external (behavioural and practical) elements. And it tackles some complex issues from a basic, introductory perspective – so it is accessible to all. It will be particularly valuable to young women setting out on their careers. The warmth of the author seeps through every page. And I love, love, love the red cover 😊

There are inspirational quotes throughout the book – from both men and women. I particularly liked:

  • “Believing in yourself is the first secret to success” Buddha
  • “Nothing can be done without hope and confidence” Helen Keller
  • “The woman who does not require validation from someone is the most feared on the planet” Mohdesa Najumi
  • “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen” Brene Brown
  • “I can’t tell you the secret to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone” Ed Sheeran
  • “Perfectionism is a dream killer because it’s just fear disguised as trying to do your best” Mastin Kipp
  • “Perfectionism is the enemy of progress” Winston Churchill
  • “Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving. We get stronger and more resilient” Steve Maraboli


  1. Strengthening confidence and self-belief
  2. Stand out from the crowd and accelerate your success
  3. Overcoming imposter syndrome
  4. It’s all about relationships
  5. Perfectly imperfect
  6. Boundaries, assertiveness and people pleasing
  7. Feel the fear and speak in public anyway
  8. Impact, influence and visibility
  9. Career changes, leaps of faith and the power of intuition
  10. Bouncing back from setbacks
  11. Final secrets to supercharge your success

This book reminded me of the 2004 “Nice girls don’t get the corner office – unconscious mistakes that women make that sabotage their careers” by Lois P Frankel. It contains 101 topics in sections titled: how you play the game, how you act, how you think, how you brand and market yourself, how you sound, how you look and how you respond.

There’s also some interesting observations about how women are perceived differently in digital communications in the 2021 book Book review: Digital Body Language – How to build trust by Erica Dhawan (

Shona’s web site

Podcast – Shona Rowan (

PS Since writing this article I found the following Authentic Leadership ….The Six Distinctions of Highly Successful Women – WeAreTheCity | Information, Networking, news, jobs & events for women where the six distinctions of highly successful women were listed as:

  1. The ability to remain open to feedback and learning
  2. The ability to ask why and what for
  3. The ability to see the future and remain on track
  4. The ability to use right brain as well as left brain processes
  5. The ability to be flexible and adapt quickly to change
  6. The ability to rely on inner resources to respond with precision

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