As the only woman on the executive leadership team, Heather was often reluctant to speak. She replayed the team meetings and asked herself why she did not offer the gold of her insights, particularly in her area of expertise. Instead, she kept her thoughts to herself. If only she could be like the men around the table, she thought, who seemed to ooze confidence. The accolades she received for her team’s performance and her leadership only heightened her impostor syndrome. She was lucky to have a great team; it was nothing to do with her leadership, she told herself. This self-defeating outlook was exhausting; she had trouble sleeping and her health was suffering.
She was sick and tired of avoiding the limelight and longed for the confidence to burst out of her self-created protective bubble. What to do? Affirmations, power poses, swagger and other inauthentic techniques from self-help books had not transformed her self-doubt.
She clarified her key strength; an impressive ability to connect with people, listen to their concerns and build understanding. It was second nature to her, so she underrated her value and passed it off as no big deal. But as good salespeople will tell you, ‘the first sale is to yourself.’ She needed to convince herself about her value, before she could expect others to do the same. It was a light-bulb moment for her.
Heather took on a stretch goal to recommend a restructure of the business and present her report to the executive leadership team. Once she committed to move outside her comfort zone, her mindset shifted. She now saw evidence from her earlier career of being, in her words, ‘a woman of substance.’ It was time to adopt an adult view of herself as someone with a unique strength of connecting with others at all levels. Once she took her attention off herself, she noticed that her male colleagues also had their own self-doubts and often were just talented actors.
Her confidence shifted as her conviction about her value grew. This collaborative strength was just what the siloed business needed. It was time to move her focus away from her perceived shortcomings and on to her stakeholders’ challenges and the value she could offer them. The executive leadership team welcomed her recommendations and praised the way she engaged with them in the review. When she spoke at the leadership table, people listened. Heather was now making the impact she had always wanted to make.
In this HBR article, Tony Schwartz suggests that, “Great leaders don’t feel the need to be right, or to be perfect, because they’ve learned to value themselves in spite of shortcomings they freely acknowledge. In turn, they bring this generous spirit to those they lead.”
🙋♀️ What were the light bulb moments in your leadership journey? 🙋♂️
Best regards, Brian