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Authors: Helene Lerner

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BOOK: The Confidence Myth
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I have practiced risk taking throughout my career because I believe what I can contribute is important. That isn't to say that I don't feel nervous. I have come to accept that trying something new involves discomfort—and taking risks gets easier with practice. I also have reached out for support. My risk-taking ventures haven't always succeeded, but enough of them did. And even when my efforts did not work out, I learned something valuable from trying.

Ruthie Davis, entrepreneur and shoe designer to the stars, is a consummate risk taker, which has certainly contributed to her success. At UGG Australia, she repositioned the iconic sheepskin boot as “fashion” and started a craze across the United States. After holding several corporate jobs, she launched her own shoe line in 2006. Ruthie attributes her success to “thinking outside of the box, writing my own rules, and being brave.”

Rosalind Hudnell, vice president of human resources, global director of communications and external relations at Intel, has taken risks since she was a young woman. She attributes this ability to the support she received from her mother and grandmother. Roz told me, “No matter what
risk I took, I knew that if I really fell on my face, the worst possible thing that could happen was I'd go back home— which was a pretty cool place.” Roz has tried to pass on her risk-taking confidence to her children by letting them know that she has their backs. Her positive attitude enables her to take risks in her career because, as she describes, if “I don't know anything about this [new project or position], I'm going to have to learn really quickly, and in any way I can.”

Why not go ahead and take a leap? Even if your efforts don't work out as planned, the lessons learned will make you wiser. Think like Sandra Dewey, executive vice president and head of business affairs for Turner Entertainment Networks and Cartoon Network Originals. She tells herself, “I'm going to make the best choice I can and if that turns out not to be perfect, I'll keep my eye on it, analyze it, and modify it as I go.”

Confidence spark

If you're feeling shaky about taking an action that could prove risky, use this exercise to determine if the action is what I call a
best bet
, a smart risk worth taking. First, analyze the pros and cons. Say you're offered a job working for a start-up company. How many pluses and minuses can you list? Which do you have more of? Second, consider the timing and your other priorities. Are you just starting out or have you been in the workforce for a long time? Are you single or married; do you have children? All of these factors go into determining whether taking the risk is worth it. Third and most importantly, listen to your inner voice. What is it advising? If everything
points to go, then it's time to make a move. Or maybe you find that the timing is not right. Don't discard your plans—just put them aside for now. Reevaluate the opportunity, or another one just like it, at a later time.

Letting go of perfection

We need to change the paradigm of what an effective businesswoman is and allow for expertise
imperfections to be part of the equation. The women I interviewed admitted to both. When we give up perfectionism, we are better able to step up, speak up, think big, and take risks. Yes, we have had to be twice as good as our male counterparts as a result of our late arrival into the workplace. But no one can keep pace with a standard that can never be achieved.

The pretense of perfection can kill your enthusiasm as well as your ability to move forward. Don't indulge it. Mistakes are part of the growing process. Some of the greatest innovations have come as a result of things going awry. A senior leader once told me that it's okay to make mistakes as long as you don't make the same mistake twice.

Stepping up to a stretch goal

Now is the time to identify a bold goal, one that you feel passionate about. Maybe it's a promotion or taking your career in a new direction. Think big!

Breaking your stretch goal into a series of smaller, doable actions may help. What steps will you need to take to get to your goal? If your goal is a promotion, how can you get more visibility with power players? Which project can you put your hand up for that will showcase your skills and commitment?
What else can you do to show that you are ready to advance? How can you attract a sponsor?

Also, consider the people who can support you as you work toward your goal. Who will give you honest feedback, offer expertise, or just be available to listen as challenges arise? Continue reaching out to these people when needed.

Remember, one action at a time will get you there. Once your goal has been achieved, acknowledge the courage it took and how you have grown throughout the process. Don't stop—find another stretch goal to tackle. Confidence is about stepping up over and over again, looking fear in the face and moving ahead anyway.

What would you do?


Hold yourself back

Step up

You are asked to suggest the name of a candidate for a job two levels above you.

You do your research and offer up two names. Yours is
one of them.

You offer one name—

You are in a meeting with your supervisors and they are talking about a challenge you know how to solve.

You offer no comment. They will probably figure out what you know will work.

You speak up and suggest a solution.

You are visiting a client and he confides in you, explaining that a consultant from another firm dropped the ball.

You listen but do not probe into what he needs because it is not your place.

You ask the client what he needs and offer to get back to him with a plan of action.

Power tools

Speak up
when your insights can make a difference. If others make disparaging remarks, the results you bring to the table will ultimately override their negative comments. If the negativity continues, you may need to look for other opportunities.

Do a spot-check inventory
throughout the day. Be aware of how you are feeling and thinking. If you are experiencing mad mind-chatter based on unfounded biases, question these thoughts.

Find a stretch goal
you are passionate about and consider what you need to do to achieve it. Get a few supporters in place and start taking action, one step at a time.

Lead with Presence


It's not possible to learn how to be a dynamic leader.


Leadership presence can be cultivated and is available to me.

Leading with presence is all about the signals you send out. It is how you portray yourself—through your words, actions, and appearance—as someone whom others trust and want to follow.

Many men and women buy into the myth that the presence exhibited by prominent leaders is something they were born with. In reality, leading with presence is a skill like any other; it can be cultivated with awareness and dedicated practice. Leading with presence involves being authentic, owning our strengths as well as our weaknesses, and speaking up on issues with integrity and passion.

As you might have imagined, the rules for leading with presence are much more complicated and nuanced for women than for men. As women, we face the double-edged sword of gender stereotypes. The lines between being assertive
or being aggressive, taking charge or being overly ambitious, and being nice or being ineffective are so blurred (by both sexes) that hitting the right note can feel impossible. In
Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success
, author and CEO of the Center for Talent Innovation, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, sums up the situation: “If you're tough, you're a bitch and no one wants to work for you, but if you're not tough, you're not perceived as leadership material and you won't be given anyone to work for you. It's a high-wire act that every capable woman has had to perform, and the higher she goes, the more perilous the act.”

In this precarious work climate, we women must pick our battles. We need to speak up if we think we can make a difference and it will strengthen our position. But if we think we will be judged poorly for making a point—one that is not high on our agenda—letting someone else pick up the slack might be best. Awareness is key, and we need to apply our best judgment and intuition to each situation.

This chapter offers concrete advice on how to build presence as well as inspiring stories from women leaders who have experienced firsthand the trials and tribulations of being visible and leading the pack. These leaders felt shaky at times, but they continued on. If they had retreated, they would have missed out on opportunities to advance up the career ladder and make a difference. The biggest takeaway from them is that you can act with presence even when you don't feel 100 percent sure of yourself.

Being poised under pressure

In the middle of a challenging time, feeling anxious is normal. Nonetheless, to instill trust and engage others, you must project strength and decisiveness. Of course, you need
to be authentic as well, which is where acting like you have everything under control when you don't feel like you do can get tricky. What helps you rise above, says Kim Lubel, CEO of CST Brands, is realizing that you are no different from any other leader. “Everyone is a little uncertain as well,” she explained.

During a crisis, women leaders are often tasked with showing empathy as well as demonstrating competence. According to Sylvia Hewlett, “For women in particular, winning more latitude in the public's eye depends on showcasing activities that demonstrate you care about the disenfranchised.”

Take Jill Campbell of Cox Communications: A few years ago, she had to consolidate some of Cox's units as the company underwent some changes. “It was hard for our leaders to get through this time,” she told me.

Jill led the initiative with the intention of treating everyone with dignity and integrity. She tried to consider how the people who lost their jobs would feel as well as how the “survivors” would respond. The controlled yet empathetic manner in which she handled the layoffs earned her the respect of not only the affected employees but also the department heads under her. Following her lead gave them a compassionate yet effective way to deal with a stressful and difficult situation.

Leadership presence involves humility. As Andrea Zintz, career coach and president of Strategic Leadership Resources, clarifies, humility is not about diminishing your stature but rather involves benevolence, consideration, generosity, and graciousness. By keeping humility in mind, you rise above the challenges to build trust.

Deborah DeHaas, chief inclusion officer for Deloitte, has created “Lessons in Leadership: My Rules to Live By,” which help her remain poised under pressure while acting with
humility. They were inspired by her mother, who was a strong role model. Deb wrote the rules early in her career as core values to guide her through good and bad times. They help her maintain her composure during the challenges she faces in her leadership roles at Deloitte. The rules were also tested when her previous employer scaled back its operations and later closed its doors in the early 2000s. Deb told me that during this dark time she woke up several mornings at three a.m. wondering what the day would bring. Guided by these core beliefs, she was able to lead with compassion.

Deb generously shares her rules below.

Lessons in Leadership: My Rules to Live By

• Be true to yourself

• Do the right thing

• Remember that actions speak louder than words

• Put first things first

• Just do it

• Don't forget that there's no
in team

• Never underestimate the power of mentors, networks, and sponsors

• Embrace lifelong learning

• Follow the Golden Rule

• Leave a legacy

Confidence spark

BOOK: The Confidence Myth
12.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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