Women’s Confidence—How to Get It If You Don’t Have It

Fake it until you make it.” When I wrote my latest book Make Room for Her, that was a central piece of advice that men gave women when it came to the issue of confidence. When researching the book, I spoke with a male colleague of mine who is an Executive Vice President of global business development, who had this to say on the subject of women and confidence:

“The only way you grow is to lose some battles along your way to winning the war. When taking on new opportunities or working in unfamiliar areas where you have little or no experience, it’s important to be okay with knowing that you are going to stumble and fall. You will certainly make mistakes, but in the long run you will learn and grow, which will make you considerably more valuable to others.”

This EVP also told me that women need to keep “putting themselves out there” and “taking the risks involved with something that’s new to them,” adding that doing so starts with believing in themselves. “Women have to know that they can be successful without having all the answers and they have to be willing to fail in order to ultimately succeed,” he said.

 It’s such great advice, yet for many women—particularly those with perfectionistic tendencies—it can be very difficult to take the type of career risks necessary to advance your career knowing that they might lead to failure. That’s why SHAMBAUGH prioritizes confidence-building as a key factor of developing a strong executive presence in our Women in Leadership and Learning (WILL) Program.

Take a Page from Men’s Playbook

In WILL, we discuss the importance of taking a page from men’s playbook to help women boost their confidence level so that they can take on new leadership challenges. When interviewing men for my book Make Room for Her, male executives shared with me that they have concern about promoting someone who seems to lack confidence. These executives want to be sure that their high-potentials are strong enough to take on new challenges at a leadership level and to lead other talented people. When employees lacked confidence, it wasn’t clear whether they could handle these new responsibilities.

While men often seem to radiate an air of confidence even when they are under-qualified for a new role, women often take on the reverse position of believing they are less qualified than they really are. Women would be well-served to follow men’s example, since “faking it until you make it” can get you a step up the ladder, while expressing that you aren’t sure whether you have the competence level to move to the next step yet can hold you back. (This is one of the Sticky Floors that I address in one of my other books, It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky Floor.)

However, there’s one major caveat to this: men’s way of displaying confidence often borders on overconfidence, and presents itself in ways that feel less natural to many women. In a recent interview Katty Kay, coauthor of The Confidence Code, addressed this point, noting that “a lot of women look around and see a very male model of confidence in a professional space that frankly is unappealing and inaccessible to us because it’s downright foreign.”

With this in mind, women need to find other ways to tap into their own authentic confidence builders. In my next post, I’ll share several specific strategies to help women do just that, as well as additional steps women can take to gain confidence and hone their risk-taking abilities.

Rebecca is an internationally acclaimed and sought-after keynote speaker, leadership expert and contributing editor for Harvard Business Review and the Huffington Post.

Learn more about SHAMBAUGH’s leadership solutions and other offerings by visiting: www.shambaughleadership.com

Rebecca is author of the best-selling books It’s Not a Glass Ceiling, It’s a Sticky FloorLeadership Secrets of Hillary Clinton, and Make Room for Her: Why Companies Need an Integrated Leadership Model to Achieve Extraordinary Results.


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