This year, my daughter will turn 18 and head off to college, and now I find myself feeling rushed to teach her everything I can about how to be successful in her future career endeavors. As I reflect back on my career, I am keenly aware of choices made that I either regret or celebrate. The regretful decisions have become significant learning moments for me, as they all seem to have two common themes: I made those decisions based on 1) fear and 2) my need to be liked and please others.
My fears were related to concerns about being judged, thought of negatively or perceived as “difficult to work with.” As a society, we often place labels on tough businesswomen that don’t necessarily get applied to tough businessmen. I am an action- and solution-oriented person with strong gut instincts that serve me well, yet my fears once prevented me from standing up, being decisive and leading with what I knew to be true.
Women, especially, take note: Don’t apologize for your values or purpose. If you make a mistake, own it — but apologizing sends the message that you aren’t confident.
Women’s desire to please can inhibit their ability to take charge. That is one of the many factors that contribute to women comprising more than half of the American workforce, yet only a small fraction of executives. And a large body of evidence by U.S. universities supports the concept of a “confidence gap,” where women feel less self-assured in the workplace, despite being just as — if not more so — competent than their male counterparts. We may not be able to control all the external factors that impact our ability to become leaders in the workplace, but we can focus on the internal obstacles holding us back.
Through years of experience and reflection, I have learned what is needed to overcome personal barriers to success, and propel all women forward as action-oriented, successful and courageous leaders that aren’t afraid to speak up and take charge.
Know your truth: Have you taken the time to understand your core values and purpose in business or life — and can you articulate them? Reflect on whether your values and purpose serve you as a leader within your organization. Are you being asked to operate against your values, or are you choosing to ignore your values to be liked by others? You will find a stronger sense of fulfillment working for a company that aligns with your truth. Women, especially, take note: Don’t apologize for your values or purpose. If you make a mistake, own it — but apologizing sends the message that you aren’t confident.
Overcome your fears: Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of and why?” What is the worst thing that could happen if you take this risk, share that opinion or make a certain decision? Women leaders need to prevent fear from inhibiting their success or drive decisions to please others. If you are working in an environment where you are encouraged to challenge the status quo and choose not to, you are holding yourself back. Take risks, share your opinion, make decisions without apology. It will be scary and uncomfortable — and worth it. Quiet the inner critic in your head, filling your thoughts with self-doubt, and take a chance. You’ll like the outcome.
Be resilient: I once read a definition of resilience as the acceptance of reality, a deep belief that life is meaningful and an ability to improvise. I believe that our resilience is tested when we fail. It’s too easy to experience failure and then give up. But if you reflect on the failure, you will learn from it and have an easier time moving on. Identify what went well, what went wrong, what you would do differently and then let the setback go. As I look back on my life, I am so proud of what I have accomplished because I didn’t give up when things got tough. I learned from my mistakes and failures, and became a better leader, manager, partner and coach.
Build your village and invest in it: In my experience, women tend to avoid asking for help, thinking it is expected that we should be able to do things on our own or figure things out without assistance. Women are under a very different microscopic lens in business than men, and some assume that asking for help is bad. I used to believe that if I asked for help, I was weak. What I now believe is that asking for help, connecting with others and nourishing those relationships makes us stronger and wiser. Seek out active power circles, mastermind groups, teams within your organization — and invest in giving back to them as well. When the time comes and a young woman seeks your professional guidance, you will know how to pass on the lessons you’ve learned.
Be a life-long learner: I wouldn’t be where I am today if I wasn’t willing to immerse myself in learning new things. I read multiple books a year. I ask questions and listen intently to responses, and then formulate my opinion. I listen to podcasts on leadership and other topics that interest me. I’ve hired a professional coach and invested over a year in working on bettering my professional self.
Women often put others first — our children, our spouses, our aging parents, our bosses, which doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for ourselves. We may fear that if we don’t put others first, we are being bad mothers, bad partners or bad employees. But we need to make the time to focus on our own personal and professional development, which also makes us better able to care for those we love. Don’t minimize your needs for everyone else’s. In addition, we improve when we expand our perspective. We become more confident with knowledge and humble with the understanding that we can always get better.
I can tell you from personal experience that by overcoming your fears and the need to please others, you will experience more satisfaction and success in your career. This is exactly what I’m telling my own daughter as she prepares to enter adulthood and develop herself into a leader.
Join me and other women in the movement to expand our imprint as great leaders. There is room for us all.