“Fortune [favors] the bold, and you’ll never know what you’re capable of if you don’t try.” — Sheryl Sandberg
We women leaders hear it often, and many of us say it often: Accentuate the positive! Play off your strengths! We’ve got the ability to inspire others to fly their confidence flag. But when it comes to our own, we sometimes can’t muster the wind.
There are a lot of great minds thinking about why women’s confidence lags behind men’s. Our “confidence factor” (or “self-esteem factor”, if you prefer) has recently been the subject of various studies. But do they have any answers?
Caution! Professional Risks Ahead
In their book The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman suggest that an important part of bridging the gender career success gap is addressing the gender confidence gap. Women’s confidence alongside men in top professional environments is growing, Kay and Shipman state, so we need to develop the similar courage to take career risks.
Margie Warrell, leadership coach and author of Stop Playing Safe: Rethink Risk. Unlock the Power of Courage. Achieve Outstanding Success, told Forbes recently that confidence gaps aren’t confined to American business culture. “In fact, wherever I’ve worked, I’ve seen that a fundamental lack of belief in our own value, worth and ability to achieve consistently tempers female ambition and holds women back,” she states.
Being in touch with our feelings moreso than our male counterparts might mean we’re also too in touch with our anxieties as well. While it’s fine to do some deep thinking before we make decisions, it’s also important not to let those inner signals become roadblocks when we’re on our career journey.
Attack Those Confidence Killers
Turn your confidence quotient around by avoiding these six habits:
1. Doubting yourself. We can sometimes overthink a decision to death. But we’re afraid of making wrong decisions, we’ll never get the chance to make right ones. Instead, second-guess your hesitation by asking these questions: 1) Do I have a good idea? 2) Is the idea doable? and 3) If it is, is the time right to go for it? It’s OK to think things through, but once you’ve decided, have your own back.
2. Following everyone else’s lead. It’s easy to follow others’ proven paths to success. (Case in point: All those Steve Jobs copycats). But why follow trends when you can set them? Confident women adopt their own leadership styles and work the best way that suits themselves and those they lead. Let go of the idea that what worked for her will work for you, too.
3. Trying to please everyone. We know you never can anyway. So why do we relentlessly keep trying? It’s impossible to be all things to all people. Consider that success lies in quality of work and achievements, not quantity. Rely on your own inner strength to resist the need to people-please.
4. Seeing failure as defeat. So your latest project didn’t live up to expectations. No matter; take the news with a grin and start planning how to do things differently the next time. Women at the top don’t let failures crush their competitive edge. Bumps in the road to success happen to the best of us. But how we recover—and define it in our work ethic—shows we’re not afraid to get back on that road.
5. Glorifying “busy.” Once in a while, great women leaders get swamped. But it’s never obvious to anyone else. Tell yourself to channel “busy” into “productive” and make the most of a marathon work session, juggle a few projects at once and sprint to meet a deadline. Getting the job done fast should make you seem hurried, not harried.
6. Taking it too personally. This might be the biggest confidence soul-crusher of all. Successful women know our opinion isn’t the only one that matters. But people who take issues personally put too much stock in other’s opinions. This translates any small letdown at work into being seen as a “winner” or “loser.” Women leaders see a problem as something that can be solved, not as a referendum on their own worth.
Once we get past these imaginary “caution” signs, we can fly our confidence flag without fear.