Think Less, Fail More: 5 Strategies to Boost Women’s Confidence

In my last post, I discussed how women can benefit from the “fake it until you make it” approach when it comes to improving their confidence levels. Men often use this strategy without thinking about it, erring on the side of overconfidence, while many women end up inadvertently holding themselves back from advancement opportunities by believing themselves to be less capable than they really are.

In SHAMBAUGH’s Women in Leadership and Learning (WILL) Program, we share a number of strategies to help boost women’s confidence, which is important in developing a strong leadership and executive presence. Here are five steps that women can start taking today to let others know that they’re ready, willing, and able to take on the tough assignments that can lead to big opportunities:

  • Be more willing to take prudent risks. While researching my book Make Room for Her, I spoke with male executives about their advice for women who want to make it to the top. One thought they shared is that they feel women should be more willing to go out on a limb and take well-calculated risks in their career, even if they aren’t sure they can succeed. “Keep self-doubts to yourself,” was one common refrain I heard. Men tend to see risk-taking as an integral part of confidence and are generally more eager to take career risks than women, who may hesitate to take a risk if they feel they might fail. This is part of a pattern of perfectionistic thinking in women, who may convince themselves that if they can’t be assured that they can do something perfectly, then they won’t attempt to do it at all. Try to overcome this limiting type of thinking and move outside of your comfort zone by taking on stretch assignments—even if you don’t know everything about the new area yet.
  • Recognize the value in trying. Piggybacking on aversion to risk-taking is fear of failure. Some women may avoid going for a new opportunity because they are more likely to be aware of the risks involved in certain situations, and prefer to make sure that they feel totally competent before assuming that they will succeed. If women share these feelings openly with others, this might be seen as a lack of confidence. Many male business leaders have shared with me that they wonder whether they should promote a competent woman when she “lacks confidence” in this way—when she hesitates to put herself in the running for a promotion because she worries that she can’t do what it takes. At SHAMBAUGH, we advise women to tap on their support system, ask their advice on how they conquered taking risks, and then be willing to try for the next level even if they don’t have every single competency that the job description requires. Whether you succeed immediately or not, it’s only by trying and making mistakes that you learn, grow, and become a better leader.
  • Don’t dwell on it. Some women (as well as some men) may suffer from “analysis paralysis.” While taking more time to think through every potential concern, possible challenge, and the ultimate results can produce some valuable insights, this additional brain strain can also interfere with taking on risky assignments or working in a new area that is outside your comfort zone. I recently saw an interview with Katty Kay, coauthor of The Confidence Code, who reemphasized this point: “That’s the way women work: we take one small thing, a small slight, a small criticism, a small thing we’ve done wrong, and it holds us back from acting and trying hard things, because we’re running around in our head.” Kay advises women to “think less,” suggesting that they find ways “to put a line under those thoughts” so that they don’t get bogged down in them.
  • Fear of failure? Get over it. In order to ultimately succeed, women have to be willing to potentially fail. While no one enjoys failing while it’s happening, failure is a necessary precursor to future growth and success. To move beyond your fear of failure, the biggest step you can take is to drop your pursuit of being perfect. Seeking perfection is what keeps many highly qualified women from even pursuing their goals, since they know that it’s impossible to achieve them perfectly. Once you stop needing to be perfect, then you can allow yourself to take a chance on doing something that you haven’t mastered yet—which is what every leader had to do to get to their position.
  • Be authentic. Over the years that I’ve coached women at SHAMBAUGH, I always return to one primary piece of advice when it comes to raising women’s confidence levels: be authentic about how you express your feelings of confidence. Know your natural strengths, which for many women include utilizing emotional intelligence, resiliency, team building, and a collaborative leadership style. These are all critical attributes for organizations and teams to leverage for success in today’s marketplace, so I encourage you to examine ways that you can use them to have a greater impact. Once you’re aware of your strengths, reach out to a few trusted advisors and request their feedback on how you can most effectively put those abilities to work. Bottom line: not everyone “does” confidence in the same way. Confidence isn’t about being the loudest person in the room or the one with the most false bravado. It’s simply about believing in yourself enough to step up to the plate and grab hold of that golden opportunity.

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:

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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