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“Moving from Competence to Confidence”
Many women are competent but lack confidence. Both are critical elements of success; competence alone isn’t enough. Yes, you must know what you’re doing and how to delegate and lead, but you also must be proud of your work and of yourself. You need both competence and confidence, yet women in the workforce often disconnect them. For instance, women unwittingly undermine themselves when they attribute their good performance to chance. If people praise you, thank them, and don’t say, “Oh, no, I just got lucky.”
To combine confidence and competence, learn and practice the “4 R’s of Success”:
Effective networking can boost your confidence and your career options, and nurturing strong relationships can help you build your personal “brand.” Establish mutually beneficial “power relationships” with team members who challenge you, managers who push you, peers who support and encourage you, and anyone you trust to be honest with you.
Author Grace Killelea, who was born in Italy and came to the US with her family when she was four, learned about networking from her Italian mother. Grace’s mother couldn’t read or speak English, but she was determined that her daughter would receive the education she lacked. She recruited registered nurse Mary Ryan, the only woman in their neighborhood who had a college degree, to become Grace’s first mentor. Grace’s mother provided Ryan with bowls of paste e fagioli (pasta and beans) for helping Grace with her reading and writing.
Basically, networking has three elements: “Information, Power and Opportunity” (IPO). Information is at the core of networking. Unlike socializing, networking includes collecting and sharing information. Power refers to the impetus and resources that strong relationships can provide. Opportunity means seeking ways to grow and to showcase your work, instead of expecting others automatically to notice your efforts and promote you. Your personal IPO mix will shift during your career as your situation changes. Try to keep the right balance.
Networking requires having conversations with a variety of people. Going to the same events and sitting with familiar people is socializing, not networking. If you don’t try new experiences and meet new people, you will damage your career. Build your network by following these tips:
- Identify a specific kind of skill you need to improve, such as marketing or technology.
- Find people in your firm with that expertise. Set up 20-minute meetings with them.
- Having coffee with them will give you enough time to connect and share information.
- During the meeting, talk about your skills and “offer something in return.”
- Don’t wait to have a problem to turn to your network. Cultivate ongoing connections.
To create time to work on your brand and your network, learn to delegate. Doing everything yourself wears you down. As you move into senior positions, your role should be more strategic and less operational. Many women get caught up in doing things “their way” and find it hard to let go. Other women delegate but then waste time micromanaging. True delegation requires trust. If you don’t learn to delegate, you risk losing future promotions. Your bosses might conclude that they’d have to hire two or three people to replace you, so they’ll be unlikely to promote you.
One of your most important working relationships is how you see yourself. Believe in yourself. Work to develop your executive presence – the sum of your “gravitas, communication” and “appearance.” Gravitas is your sense of authority and innate leadership. Communication involves not just what you say, but how you say it. Develop your public speaking skills. For example, if you’re giving a presentation and you sound as if you’re asking questions when you’re actually making a statement, you will seem uncertain. Envision each sentence you speak with a period at the end. Declarative statements convey confidence. Watch your tone of voice and pitch. Many people find high-pitched voices to be grating. Avoid apologizing unnecessarily.
Dress a level up from your current position. Act prepared for the job you want. Observe what other women in your workplace wear, and put your personal spin on it. Problematic fashion issues include clothing that is too tight or too loose, visible bra straps or panty lines, revealing clothes, heels that are too dressy, and inappropriate hairstyles or hair color. Realize that you’re never truly “off the clock” at business-related social events, so watch your demeanor at after-hours parties with your co-workers and supervisors.
People don’t just hand you respect and a great reputation; you have to earn them. Your reputation and personal brand are synonymous. Both reflect your executive leadership presence. While some people are aware of their reputations, others have no clue. Your reputation – good or bad – affects how others perceive you and can boost or undermine your future opportunities. Professionals who are just starting their careers or who are at a junior level may lack confidence. As their experience builds, so does their confidence. You are responsible for building yourself up from the inside out. As you advance, be aware that real leaders find solutions to problems. Leaders need to be able to tell the truth diplomatically; otherwise, they’ll be seen as bullies who will develop or already have bad reputations. Courageous leaders give their colleagues information they need, even if they don’t want to hear it.
Many capable, experienced women who’ve been working for 10 or 15 years still hesitate to take risks or to advocate for themselves. They don’t step up to ask for more responsibilities, a raise, promotion or title change. According to McKinsey research, 83% of women in middle management want to move to the next level and 50% feel that it matters to their careers to move into leadership positions. If an organization posts a job with a list of 10 qualifications, most women won’t apply unless they have all 10. Men will apply even if they have just three.
To build a strong personal brand, make a good first impression with direct eye contact and a firm handshake. Be true to your convictions. Communicate effectively. Give and receive in equal measure, and be flexible and encouraging toward others. Building your brand takes conscious and unconscious thought, but unconscious work requires more effort. For instance, you may be great at your job, but if you’re unconsciously too negative, others won’t want to work with you. However, being upbeat and positive but not working hard will also undermine your career.
Be aware of your social media presence. Social media blur lines between the professional and the personal. You can extend your brand online via LinkedIn, a professional networking website. Always use social media with care. Some employers monitor their employees’ activities on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms. Damaging your brand online can damage your brand in the real world. “Nothing is private anymore; you have to be very thoughtful about how you ‘show up’ in person, online and in electronic communications.” In one case, a woman with a strong professional brand began making “provocative” posts. In reaction, many people in her network disengaged from her.
To understand your personal brand, run a “brand audit.” Examine the components of how you project yourself and the messages you convey. Gather information about your brand by being observant; watch how others respond to you verbally and nonverbally. Request a “mini” 360-degree evaluation from your friends and colleagues. Ask for feedback from people you trust, including their opinions of your style or look. If you receive a lot of criticism, take time to process it before moving on. Set about making adjustments or doing damage control.
For example, take “Brooke.” Although she was a proven go-getter in advertising, various bosses had fired her several times in her short career. Brooke didn’t realize how much that hurt her reputation. Because of her aggressive nature, many clients said they felt she talked down to them or didn’t value their ideas. She faced internal complaints as well. Once she realized that her unrestrained assertiveness was affecting her brand, Brooke worked hard to be more inclusive and less dominating. She apologized to her clients and direct reports for her former behavior.
“Relationships and reputation can only get you so far.” You must deliver results to take your career to the next level. People expect to get what they pay for: a professional product or service delivered on time and within the planned budget.
Keep these tips in mind when doing your job: Being early is great, but not if your workmanship is shoddy. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Quality is more important than quantity. Don’t blame others for your shortcomings. If you lack certain skills, hire people to complement your abilities. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. While you may be tempted to say yes to everything, set boundaries based on what you can accomplish within a certain time frame. If you can’t meet a deadline, ask for an extension or more resources. If you don’t perform as expected and produce results, you’ll damage your reputation.
Women often need to learn how to shift from tactics to strategy. Many women get “pigeonholed as ‘just’ great tacticians” because they’re successful at daily operations, but they can’t make the leap to the big picture. When you’re starting, you can rely more on hunches and emotion. As you progress, you’ll need to amass data to support your decisions. Get better at execution by managing your “time, people, progress” and “expectations.” Handle your schedule by delegating and streamlining your efforts. Organize your time and help your staff use their time more effectively. Monitor your progress, and adjust your expectations as needed.
Many women are more comfortable arguing from emotion, but they may hamper their careers by not learning how to talk about and understand numbers. Every company has finance and accounting staff. Protecting the company is the essence of their job. They provide data each month, quarter and year to help leaders make decisions. If you’re uncomfortable with financial topics, seek help from people with more expertise.
Even as you master using facts and figures to support your decisions, don’t ignore your instincts. For example, years ago, an employer sent Killelea to check out one of the company’s remote retail locations. Although the leaders she met there were pleasant, she knew something was wrong. None of the store’s employees would make eye contact with her. Over the phone, she told her boss to conduct an audit. It turned out the person in charge of the location had stolen close to $1 million from the company and had committed other illegal acts. He threatened employees with losing their jobs if they spoke to Killelea. Facts ultimately proved that her theory was correct; the fraud might have continued if she had ignored her gut feelings.
Always evaluate whether it’s better for your career to stay with your current organization or to move on. Every office has politics. Women, in particular, risk getting caught up in workplace drama instead of knowing how to disengage and say no. Consider leaving your current organization if you’re not growing or learning, if you have no upward mobility, if your industry is stagnant, or if you aren’t fairly compensated or rewarded with freedom or challenging projects.
Resilient people don’t give up, blame others, throw tantrums, or bad-mouth previous employers in person or online. Being resilient means dealing with change and learning to “bounce back” from setbacks rather than letting them consume you. Don’t let roadblocks or fear stop you. Being a leader requires stamina. Maintain your energy and strength by focusing on your health and wellness, exercising, enlisting friends to help you take care of yourself, and having fun. Your career trajectory is up to you. Confidently seize ownership of your professional life.[/text_block]