I was being interviewed for a senior leadership position at a university. I could feel that it was going extremely well and the panel of 6 were fully engaged with me and my responses. Then came the question that I knew would come. You know, THAT question?
The one that seems really innocent. But something stirs in the pit of your stomach. You know this is the ‘make or break’ question. The Deputy Vice Chancellor (a semi-god in a university structure) was the chair of the panel and he not-so-innocently asked: “What will be the challenges for you in this position, if you were to be successful?”
Now I have been on at least 50 job interview panels over the years. Here is my observation, in a generalized, over-simplified version. Men often don’t offer anything as a challenge for them. Women, on the other hand, can give you a list. You can imagine what happens to the confidence levels of the interview panel members if an interviewee goes on and on.
Now don’t get me wrong. These questions need to be asked. Actually, good interview questions illicit much more information about you as a person, then just the content that the interviewee responds with. Indeed, the numerous times I have been chair of an interview panel, these are the questions I strive for. In Australia, unlike many other western countries, we tend not to formally assess job applicants on a range of attributes. This puts enormous significance on getting the interview questions right, because we know the costs of appointing someone who is not a good fit for the position. Those costs are detrimental to the organisation, the team and of course the applicant. But that is another topic.
Women make great leaders (there is ample evidence to support that claim) …
… but they don’t get into leadership positions, in the first place, unless they have confidence.
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An 8 year long study, not-so-long ago, by Wiebke Bleidorn, reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, that in industrialised western countries, such as Australia, USA, UK, Canada, women tend to compare themselves to men rather than women. This results in a huge gender gap in confidence. Despite the advances women have made over the last century the statistics reveal that men still hold positions of greater power, status and income. Interestingly this same study revealed that woman in Asian countries do not suffer the same degree of lack of confidence. We need to learn learn from our Asian sisters. This might be attributed to the fact that they are more likely to compare their successes to other women. As a result, the gender gap in confidence is dramatically diminished, almost negligible.
This brings me to my point. You cannot compare apples and oranges. Women, all you wonderful women out there, I want you to see how remarkable you are. Stop comparing yourself to others, especially masculine others. If this resonates with you, how about giving a shout out, like the page or share in the comment box. You are not alone.
Women make great leaders when they use both their feminine and masculine leadership qualities, but to do that, they must first get into those leadership positions. You need confidence to do that.
The cost of lack of confidence
Apart from the obvious, which is too few women in leadership roles. There is a litany of costs involved when women lack confidence. Lack of confidence leads to too much modesty, the inability to make the ‘big ask’, avoiding attention, and remaining silent, especially at meetings. I have even seen a group of woman who worked hard on improving the way in which a team worked, allow the senior male, who had no part in the improvements, not only take the full credit, but went around the world giving conference presentations and many, many TV shows speaking about it. Really? Really!
Those women were amazing, BUT they didn’t have the confidence to claim what was rightfully theirs to claim.
What does confidence bring?
Confidence is our belief in our ability to succeed at a given task. A lack of confidence fosters risk aversion and an unwillingness to pursue new challenges. Leaders, especially great leaders, take calculated risks, seek out the lessons from any failures and push beyond the status quo.
Be by doing
To BE a transformational leader take action to ‘DO’.
Step out and, as we Aussies say ‘have a go’. Sure, you will have self-doubt, but do it anyway. Follow the examples of the many female role models you have in your life. Some are famous, some are in your workplace, some are in your circle of family, friends or acquaintances.
Learn, be open.
There are so many fabulous books, videos, Ted Talks, biographies and so on, if you need inspiration. For example, try the book called Brave: 50 Everyday Acts of Courage to Thrive in Work, Love and Life by Margie Warrell. As Margie says “Too often women overestimate the risks and underestimate themselves. Only by doing the very things we’re afraid of can we come to realize how little reason we ever had to fear. The only way to build confidence and courage is by acting with it.”
How very true. Do it, step out, and when you succeed, be connected to the exponential growth of confidence you will then experience.
Are you perfect?
Goodness no. How boring would that be? None of us holds our confidence 100% of the time in 100% of the things that we do. Self-doubt is very much a part of each of us. But we have to learn how to deal with, so that we do not let it stop us in our tracks.
Whilst you are waiting to feel 100% confident in yourself before making a career move the window of opportunity passes you by, again and again and again.
Stop placing such a high importance on being confident before making a move. Because it absolutely holds you back. So, I want you to stop it… RIGHT NOW.
Courage not confidence
Value courage over confidence. Have the courage to take a leap or the next step. Grow in competence and confidence blossoms alongside of it.
Have courage to:
- Ask for what you want and don’t waiver. It will come to you.
- Know that you are worthy, without apology or being boastful.
- Get in touch with your ‘why’, your purpose on this planet and keep going in that direction. Don’t apologise for that.
- Say ‘no’. It’s hard sometimes not to be a people-pleaser because most of us have been raised to be just that.
- Speak your truth. Own it. Be true to your values.
- Live your story, as there is no one else who can.
- Release all guilt feelings. Oh how often we women feel guilty. It is past time to let that go. You may be feeling my voice here, I hope so. But again I will resay it slightly different. You have a purpose, a story to tell, a life to share. Be true to that and don’t take on board the guilt that others may try to impose because you are not serving them in the way they think it ought to be.
- Push past fear of failure. There is always something to be learnt, done better, improvements to be made and successes to be had.
- Ask yourself: What am I holding back from because self-doubt has creeped in?
- Now ask yourself: What could I do to act courageously and step out in confidence today?
- Next: Go do it. I know you can.