Last week, I had the opportunity to work with a leadership team at a high tech company in California. The goal was to build trusting relationships across the team and to focus on future opportunities for the business. I stayed behind one of the days to observe some of the leaders take part in a “career board of directors” panel. “What is that?” you might ask. It’s a new program they’re trying out, designed to give career advice and increased visibility to junior staff within the organization. What transpired next surprised me…
A woman, let’s call her Jane, who’s 38 years old, has two degrees, and many years of experience in her chosen field, stood in front of this board—which consisted of seven senior leaders, two to three levels above her in the organization (only one of whom was a woman). As Jane spoke about what she’d accomplished in her career, and in her current role, and what she saw next for herself, the leaders listened with a tone that was about three-fourths critical and one-fourth supportive.
I was watching things like tone of voice, body language, eyebrows (eyebrows can tell you a LOT!) and facial expressions, in addition to what was actually being asked/said. “Geez,” I thought, “this woman seems super smart and successful, why are they being so hard on her? Don’t they know how awesome it would be if they validated some of her ideas and comments as opposed to critique them?” To be fair, there was some positive feedback a la, “I like that you pointed out X,” but these comments were few and far between.
Afterwards, during dinner with the team, one of the board members came up to me. “So Mitch,” he said, “What do you think her main problem was?” I literally laughed—hard. “How funny,” I said. “To be honest, I wasn’t watching her as closely as I was observing all of you—you guys are my clients, after all. What do you think her main ‘problem’ was?” I was taken aback by his reply. “Confidence,” he told me. “We talked about it after she left, and we all agreed it was her lack of confidence. For example, when we asked how long before she felt ready for her next role, she said ‘probably two years.’”
To the men in the room, this was unfathomable. In my experience, it’s very common. As women, we often wait until we’re competent before we feel confident, whereas men often feel confident before they’ve achieved full competence. What are the implications of this dynamic? Well, there are several. The most glaring—as evidenced by this story—is how differently men perceive us versus how we perceive ourselves.
The men saw Jane’s thoughtful, careful, cautious approach as a lack of confidence. I would have viewed it as a sign of humility and judged her someone I could trust. Furthermore, I would have perceived Jane’s honest reply as confidence of a different kind—the confidence to admit there are things she has yet to learn; the confidence to not think she has to be ready right now.
Confidence Requires Courage
BUT, having said all that, I also think these guys had a point. As women, we tend to like to have a long runway and I think we all need to ask ourselves: “Do I actually need that long of a runway? What would happen if I stepped into this role or this opportunity before I felt completely ready?”
I can tell you from experience (and most of you probably have had this experience, too) I’ve stepped into MANY, MANY things before I felt ready, and guess what? It seemed to work out somehow—and, in most cases, it didn’t just work out, it was downright awesome and confidence building to see what I was capable of!
When I became a business owner I didn’t feel ready, and now I have a thriving business. When I became a mother, I didn’t feel ready and now I have a thriving family! When I embarked on making the WiRL summit happen, I didn’t feel ready and here I am, yet again, making it happen. You can too, ladies! It’s worth considering: What would happen if I reached for that next “thing” before I feel completely “ready?”
I know we have a group of lion-hearted, courageous mogul moms here in our community…Inspire us with your courage by sharing in the comments some of your scary but confidence-building encounters!
About the Author:
Michelle “Mitch” Shepard is the Founder & Creative Force behind WiRL Leadership Summit, an online event for professional women seeking career success and personal fulfillment. An executive coach, facilitator, and leader herself, Mitch knows firsthand what it takes to succeed in today’s business world, and is eager to help women accomplish their professional and personal goals. Exclusive 20% discount for all The Mogul Mom readers to WiRL LeaderShip Summit: Enter TMM20 at checkout!