“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” Thomas Edison
I work with some amazing women in the City of London. Many of them are already leaders and others are the leaders of tomorrow.
Looking at their CVs they have already achieved great things. However, there is one issue that crops up again and again: a lack of confidence. In many ways, their levels of confidence need to catch up with what is written in black and white on their CVs.
This manifests as a hesitation by some to put themselves forward for more senior roles and by others to allow themselves to step beyond their comfort zone and perform “all out” when they do reach leadership roles.
Of course, this does not apply to all women but it applies to enough to make it worth addressing. We women need to find ways to acknowledge the “little voice if doubt” we all have and move beyond this to achieve all we are capable of.
What do we mean by “lack of confidence”?
We need to be careful about talking about a “lack of confidence” as a blanket term. It is very important to remember that confidence is very context specific. All of us, men and women alike, are actually a kaleidoscope of different levels of confidence in different aspects of our lives. For example, a senior lawyer may be very confident in her specialist aspects of the law but not in some of the wider business leadership issues required when stepping up to become partner. A Financial Controller is likely to be very confident in the financial aspsects of her job but when promoted to Chief Financial Officer, may feel less confident about, perhaps, the more strategic aspects of the role. Outside work we may be confident tennis players, violinists and parents, for example.
It is important to remember that we are confident people in dimensions of our lives and we can extend this confidence to those aspects of our roles and careers where we are currently less confident. The ten ways listed below can help us to do this.
1. Identify and leverage your strengths
Being very clear about our strengths gives us an excellent platform of confidence. If we then leverage these strengths we can maximise our contributions. However, many women I work with are much clearer about their weaker areas than their strengths. Often they are genuinely are not sure of their strengths, and if they are, find it inappropriate to talk about them. However, being clear about your strengths and taking ownership of these is key to confidence. It is helpful to list your strengths yourself and also to ask for feedback on these from your boss and possibly other colleagues too. It can work well to offer to do this on a reciprocal basis with your peers.
2. Address any “mission critical” development areas
Being very clear about your strengths, also positions you well to acknowledge your weaker areas. It is worth remembering that we could spend our entire lives trying to improve areas we are not so strong at and still not be as successful as if we had leveraged our strengths. However, it is important to identify areas that we really do need to work on. Again, seek balanced feedback that also highlights the really crucial dimensions of experience or skill that may be holding you back. These need to be considered in light of your career aspirations as different areas will be more or less important depending on the route you wish to take.
3. Address any limiting beliefs about yourself as a leader
We all have beliefs about our abilities in all aspects of our lives. These are often held at an unconscious level yet have a profound impact on the results we see in our lives. Where we have negative beliefs about ourselves, they are often called “limiting beliefs” as they limit what is possible for us. For example, if, at a deep level we don’t really believe that we are good enough to be a leader, this will hold us back from taking all the actions and having the strength of presence etc. necessary to be perceived as having leadership potential. It is first of all necessary to identify your current beliefs and, if they are not helpful, substitute them with empowering beliefs. For guidance on how to go about this, you may like to look at the step by step approach outlined in my May SHIFT and Breakthrough Newsletters. To sign up for one of these, please follow the link below:
4. Avoid the tyranny of perfection
Aiming for perfection can greatly sap our confidence because it is virtually impossible to achieve. We women particularly, often have an absolute standard of perfection to which we unconsciously aim. Sometimes, because it seems such a high standard, we don’t even try. No point in even starting, we say to ourselves. Better to save the energy. Too often, fear of failure prevents us from attempting even the first step. How much more could you achieve if you weren’t trying to reach perfection in your endeavours? How much happier would you be if “good enough” were to be an option more frequently?
5. Realise that ambiguity is part of leadership
It can be very empowering to remember that, even though you may feel some confusion and ambiguity, you are likely still to be doing a good job. The leap from being a technical specialist (where you are on top of the detail) to a more generalist role where you have to lead through others, is great and many women (and men) find this a challenge to navigate. As well as learning specific skills to assist with this, a change in mindset is invaluable here. It is helpful to appreciate that ambiguity is a key part of the landscape of being a leader and learning to “know what to do when you don’t know what to do” is part of the bread and butter of leadership.
6. Learn to handle the voice of doubt
We all have a little voice in our heads, don’t we? Its purpose is to keep us safe but it is very risk averse and often asks very unhelpful questions such as “Who am I to get promoted?” The key point is to remember that everybody, no matter how senior they are still feels afraid, but it's about pushing through that fear. Often it is necessary to acknowledge the fear and work through it saying to yourself “I can do that meeting.” or “I can do that presentation”. Once you start doing that, your brain will “catch up” and you will realise that you are an effective leader or a manager after all.
As Vincent Van Gogh wrote:
“If you hear a voice within you say "you cannot paint," then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced. “
7. Overcome the "Imposter Syndrome"
Sometimes leaders, both men and women, feel that they are not really up to the job. They fear that one day they will be found out. This is known as the “Imposter Syndrome.” Indeed, this is fairly common amongst successful people. In addition to the points above about handling the little voice in your head, it is helpful to remember that we see ourselves from the inside out while we see everyone around us who seems so successful and confident, only from the outside. While we are only too aware of our own weaknesses, gaps in our knowledge etc., others are likely to see us as much more effective, particularly if we consciously manage our presence and our “personal brand”.
8. Find ways to make you feel strong
We all have particular outfits or pairs of shoes that, simply by wearing them, make us feel more confident. Also, when we stand tall and think about slowing down our voice and managing its pitch and tone, we can consciously strengthen both our confidence and our impact. Perhaps we also have little mantras we say to ourselves when we want to boost our confidence. I work with women to develop a “confidence toolkit” made up of a whole range of techniques including ways to strengthen their presence, harness their potential, initiate supportive relationships, focus on strategy and think like a leader.
9. Leadership is a journey
Our confidence is increased when we remember that learning to be a leader takes time and requires you to move out of your comfort zone and keep growing. You may have come across the work of Carol Dweck, a Stanford University psychologist, outlined in her book Mindset. In this she describes the difference between Fixed and Growth mindsets regarding intelligence. The belief behind a Fixed mindset is that intelligence is static. You are either smart or you are not. However, if you believe in the concept of Growth mindset, which holds that intelligence is dynamic, you will take opportunities to develop your intelligence through learning. The same is true for leadership development. Taking a Growth mindset approach to leadership development will enable you to keep learning throughout your whole leadership journey.
10. Seek support from others
Having a network of those who are willing and able to support us on our leadership journey also greatly increases our confidence. It is very helpful to have a network of peers, those at different stages of their own leadership journey and others including mentors and coaches. We can all choose to give support to others on their journey and at times it is invaluable to accept help from others too.
A Confidence Building Invitation
If you would like to enhance your confidence and fast track your career as a current or future woman leader, I would delighted to invite you to a one day event I am running.
Woman’s Career Accelerator – One Day Workshop – Thursday 13 July
City of London Location
There are a few Early Bird Tickets remaining - available until 9 June 2107
For more information and to book a place, please follow the link below:
“So much of what you said resonated and I came away feeling 10 feet tall and as though I could take on the world!” Chief Financial Officer
Catherine Cuffley is an executive coach and founder of Thinking Choices Limited. www.thinkingchoices.com. She specialises in working with organisations in the City of London to help them to develop their women leaders. She works with senior professional women in banks, insurance companies, law firms and management consultancies etc. to support them in achieving their next leadership position. This may be a place on the board or indeed their first leadership position and everything in between.
Catherine is the author of the forthcoming book, SHIFT: Insights from a City Coach on Succeeding as an Authentic Woman Leader and she also speaks at conferences and events, such as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Chartered Insurance Institute (CII) on the application of neuroscience to leadership, amongst other topics.
Catherine has spent many years in the City in a range of Human Resources and Learning and Development roles. She has also worked as a Change Management Consultant in financial services organisations. She has repeatedly seen the way in which many talented women in City organisations are not quite reaching the more senior positions they seek. Catherine’s mission is to support women in fulfilling their potential and maximising their contribution whilst enabling organisations to optimise their female talent.