Four things that kill our confidence as women

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In this article I look at why confidence is so important and what we can do to build it as women leaders.

Lack of confidence puts a handbrake on our power, on our ability to make a difference and on our leadership success. Confidence isn’t aggression, and self assurance is not arrogance. It’s not about thinking you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread and letting everyone know about it. But swimming in a sea of self-doubt is exhausting and stops us stepping up. Our confidence is learned and earned – here’s how.

Of course there are lots of reasons why women feel less confident, it’s quite natural when we operate in a working world where we feel ‘other’.  So we can either rant and rave about that or we can get on with managing the stuff we can control. For example, research tells us women do the following things differently to men that erodes our confidence:

1. We seek perfection, setting our bar so high we often feel inadequate
2. We ‘overthink’, constantly ruminating on our setbacks and failures
3. We internalise failure (that was my fault that happened) and externalise success (guess I was lucky)
4. We are praise junkies, highly dependant on approval to feel good about our work

Yup, and ouch!! All of those things drain our confidence.

Aiming for Perfection The confidence killer of wanting to be perfect means we don’t apply for jobs until we are overqualified, we over prepare and we focus on what we are not. We make our own bar so high we can feel inadequate and afraid of failing. All of that is wasting our time and energy.

Overthinking We torture ourselves with what went wrong, constantly ruminating on things, going over and over negative thoughts, what Susan Nolen-Hoeksema in ‘Women Who Think Too Much‘ calls the ‘yeast effect’. Working away at our worries so they grow and grow. What we tell ourselves about ourselves feeds (or not!) our self assurance.

Internalising failure, externalising success Men tend to have more of a ‘water off of a duck’s back’ attitude when things go wrong, but women can allow the feeling of failure to sit with them for longer. We will often attribute success to external sources not our own skills or talents, so when a colleague congratulates you on a hard- won pitch, some respond with “Oh, I hear the other agency were way over budget so it’s no surprise they chose us.”

Approval seeking Of course we all thrive on positive feedback but if that’s the only diet that makes us feel ok about ourselves then even constructive criticism we will take personally, it will be devastating and we will miss a learning opportunity. Praise as a basis for confidence is fragile, it’s not in your control and constantly seeking approval will stop us taking action and taking the risks we need that will build our confidence.

Take the Handbrake Off

So how do we manage all those ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ thoughts, overwhelming ourselves with our shortcomings and mistakes.

Well the good news is we do not need to to be swung around by the tail of our emotions, fuelling our resentment and anxiety with our own thoughts. Give it a break! Get out of your own way! We can learn to manage our emotions and consciously not amplify them.

Becoming more self-aware is a fundamental weapon against our confidence killers. Understanding when that negative voice on your shoulder is undermining you, and learning to change the channel. Dr Dweck’s research on Mindset can be especially powerful for women as a means of re-framing failure and correcting our negative bias. Check out her TED talk here . What I like about Dweck’s work is she clearly distinguishes between talent and effort, we can control the latter. She encourages us to add YET to any ‘I’m not good enough” voices, building our growth mind-set.

We learn our confidence, by earning it and we earn our confidence by taking small steps. I am not saying be a hard-faced, non-caring, self-obsessed person, quite the opposite. Taking measured risks is a way to build courage and confidence.

Take action, don’t overthink, fail small and be ok with it, ask yourself ‘what did I learn from that?’ Reframe your failure, if you’re not failing at stuff in your job you’re not learning. Let go of that perfectionism, stop obsessing, learn to manage your emotions and move on. Your talent as a leader is not finite, no-one is the finished article. Be prepared to take a breather from always working on your competence and work on your confidence, it’s the other part of the puzzle. Our confidence makes us powerful.

Fuelling confidence

It is one thing to take the handbrake off ourselves by being conscious of how we might be eroding our own confidence and working at not doing that, but what’s our high octane confidence fuel? Try focussing on WHY you are doing the stuff that feels risky – for your team, your organisation, your family – keep it purpose drive. What is the contribution you are making? Focussing on our ‘why’ helps fuel our courage. Courage doesn’t mean a lack of fear, it’s what we do in the face of fear that tests our courage. Find your reason to step in.

You might be interested in my podcast episode with Professor Natalia Karelaia on confidence and influence strategies for women leaders. Click here to listen.

As always thanks for reading this and sharing it. Feel free to read more on my blog page.
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