Michelle is a supremely confident woman. But that was not always the case. Just six months prior, her manager called my office pleading with me to help her.
“Michelle is my go-to person for all meaningful things. She’s smart, well connected, and has never once let me down. I don’t know how my organization would run without her. But here’s the problem—Michelle has no executive presence. None.
At high-level meetings, Michelle sits in the corner, head down, hovering over her laptop. She never speaks unless she’s spoken to and, when she does, the quality of her communication betrays her knowledge. Although Michelle is, by far, my most informed employee, she comes off as though it’s her first day.
I want to promote her. I need to promote her—she could go very far in our company– but I can’t do that until she shows up as a leader and presents herself as confident, knowledgeable, and in command.”
This is the same conversation I have with a manager several times a month. It is a problem that is almost exclusive to women.
The Power Gap is the chasm between a person’s capabilities, and how others perceive them.
The question is – What do we do about it?
Let’s take a step back and revisit some basics.
All things in life start with who we are as human beings; we are the core of our own lives, and everything we are impacts everything we do and with whom we do it. Our relationship with ourselves is central to our relationship with everything we do—it’s core to every word we speak, every thought we think, and every deed we perform.
Everything the world sees, on the outside, is an extension of this ‘who’ that you are. Everything. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Leadership is an inner game.
Confidence is an inner game.
Power is an inner game.
“It’s who you are, not what you do, which is most valuable to the world.” Solomonism #165
So what is confidence, really?
Confidence originates from the Latin word confidere, which means “to be sure,” “to believe in,” “to have full trust,” or “to have faith in.” Curiously, confidence is not a personality trait- it is something that is built over time and results from compounded success.
Confident people believe in themselves; they trust in their ability to manage whatever problems life hands them. They know their value as human beings and are also aware of the value of their contributions to the world.
Confident people have an “I’ve got this!” “I can handle it!” internal conversation based on their beliefs about themselves; this vibe seems to radiate from them and is often tangible to those around them. Confident people are comfortable in their skin, and they project that through their actions and behaviors.
According to Katty Kay, co-author of The Confidence Code, “Confidence as action is a virtuous circle. The more we act, the more our confidence grows. We try something, and the next time round we feel a little bit easier about trying it again.”
Which is exactly how Michelle grew from a reluctant, somewhat withdrawn and meek wallflower, to a confident, courageous and transformative leader.
The short version of how we accomplished this lies in the 10 Characteristics of Confident Women list below. Michelle and I spent six months coaching her on her real value (yeah, yeah, I know it sounds a bit ‘woo woo’, but it works).
A big part of the work she did was focused on the gap between how she perceived herself, and how others perceived her based on the actions she took and the results she produced.
What was in the gap?
Michelle had been educated and socialized and to downplay her strengths, and to never ever ‘brag’ about herself. It was a lesson she learned too well; a lesson that needed to be replaced with a powerful one which, at its core, was, “If I’m confident and successful in my life, I’ll be a role model for other women to be the same.”
Why is confidence more of a challenge for women than for men?
We’ve been taught not to boast
We’ve been taught not to take the spotlight
We’ve been taught that our successes are due to circumstances, luck, or through the assistance of other people
We’ve been taught not to exclude others, and if we focus on ourselves, it will violate that unspoken rule
What we women are NOT taught is how to
TAKE CREDIT FOR OUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS.
I’ll leave the rest of the explanation for Michelle’s success for another blog post, but, in case you’re wondering, she did get that promotion!
1. Live their purpose
Steve Jobs, Oprah, Richard Branson – all have spoken about having a purpose. They may be well known, but if you’re breathing you, too, have a purpose.
Our life purpose is deep-wired into us. It is the most vital component of our personal operating system.
Living your purpose deeply engages you because it is your ‘calling.’ It fuels your personal power, fires up your courage and, reinvigorates your resilience. If you don’t live your purpose, you cannot lead. Yes, it’s that simple.
2. Are authentic
They accept themselves as they are, allowing them to acknowledge and embrace their flaws and assets. They’re real. Sitting in conversation with a confident person is easy in the fashion of WYSIWYG. No pretense. No games or gimmicks.
3. Empower other people
Confidence, like so many other things, is contagious. When a confident leader owns up to their mistakes and speaks of their flaws, it permits others to do the same.
When people know that taking risks and making mistakes is okay (heck, even the boss does it), then they’re willing to stick their necks out. When they discover that the risk was worthwhile, it builds confidence. That confidence grows and forms the foundation for the employee to become invaluable to his/her organization.
4. Ask for help when they need it
Nobody can go it alone. Nobody. Not if they want to be successful. When you’re confident, your ego doesn’t feel threatened by reaching out to others who may be more qualified at a particular task. Which leads us to…
5. Listen well and are open to what they hear
Confident people don’t need to be right, but they want to be successful. Thisi means that if they don’t know the answer to a challenge, they’re willing to explore and discover new and different ways to resolve an issue.
6. They’re accountable for their successes and failures
You’re confident; you “own” your life. All of it. No excuses.
7. Trust themselves
Confidence is a by-product of success. Just like one accrues mileage on a credit card and is rewarded with a free plane ticket, confident women are rewarded with increased confidence when one accrues successes.
Subsequently, one’s experiences builds self-trust. The confident woman knows that she’s likely to succeed on a project, for instance, because she’s garnished so many successes on similar projects. Similarly, when the confident woman fails at something, she knows it’s okay because, historically, she’s recovered and moved on to the next thing—no big deal.
8. Rely on their intuition
Though not yet as quantifiable as IQ or EQ, intuitive intelligence is undeniable. The more ambiguity in a situation, the more one must rely on intuitive intelligence, aka gut instincts. Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey deferred to their intuition when logic and data were inconclusive.
9. Have a growth mindset
Confident people know that there is much to be learned, many challenges to overcome, and plenty of opportunities to transform those ‘failures’ into springboards for future growth and success. The confidence these people have developed is the perfect backdrop in expanding abilities, growing their intelligence, and persevering in the face of struggle.
10. Maintain healthy boundaries
A confident woman knows her value and her values. She makes decisions based on both. Therefore she knows when to say “yes” and when to say “no”. See #1-9.
How confident are you? Want to take a test and find out for sure? You can find it here: The Confidence Code Assessment. I took it myself and was shocked by the summary! (just kidding).
What did we leave off this list? What other characteristics are found in confident women? Please let us know by leaving a comment below, and we’ll share it with our readers!
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Nancy D. Solomon, MA Psych is the CEO and Founder of The Leadership Incubator where she helps leaders identify, address and resolve people problems before they become profit problems... so everyone can focus on what they were hired to do-- INNOVATE AND DRIVE GROWTH.
Known as The Impact Expert, she is a main stage speaker, expert trainer and veteran coach who helps leaders solve key issues related to leadership development, employee engagement, and advancing women.
Nancy has made a difference for such companies as Microsoft, Target, Acura, Westin, Nordstrom & ADP as well as with many passionate individuals.