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What’s Holding You Back? Why I (Finally) Put Myself in the Running for CEO

December 20, 2018 Jennifer McCollum

As 2018 ends, Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage, reflects on her own leadership journey and a few important things that she’s learned along the way. Here, she explains how she put her Inner Critic (that pesky voice in our heads that can cause us serious self-doubt) in check to take the next step in her career.

Upon my arrival this summer, a few of my colleagues at Linkage shared that they were surprised to learn that a woman had been chosen as CEO for the first time in our 30-year history. The truth is, I was surprised, toonot that I had earned the job, but that I had even put myself in the running.

For the first half of 2018, I took a self-defined sabbatical after more than 20 years of working in the Leadership industry. I knew if I didn’t take this time of reflection, I would risk a reactive move into another role like the one I had left at a publicly traded company. I forced myself to slow down, putting a simple guiding principle in place that I’d recommend to anyone seeking a new job: Each day, I committed to doing one thing for my body, one thing for my spirit, and one thing for my job search.

Frankly, the days were uncomfortable at first. I had to come to terms with some of my own limiting beliefs. And then slowly, over months, the days became completely invigorating as I allowed myself the gift of exploration, connection and focus.

One of my early discoveries of 2018 was that it hadn’t occurred to me I was CEO-ready until my male colleagues told me I was ready.

I’ve run my own consulting firm; I’ve been at the helm of corporate business units; and I’ve engaged with countless impressive women executives. And yet, I hadn’t envisioned the next logical step. As I contemplated the next phase in my career early this year, several male executives told me I should just “go run my own company” or “take over as CEO of a venture in need of a strong leader.” They said this quickly and without thinking, as if it’s a conclusion they drew long ago.

But, here’s the thing: It was an awakening for me.

Why is it that I questioned my readiness for the “big job” when so many trusted men in my life saw me in this role so clearly?

People would not describe me as lacking confidence, but I found reasons to question or delay the move to CEO, including:

  • My oldest kids were approaching college age, and I wanted to be more flexible and available for them;
  • I thought I should take the number-two role at a company for a few years until I’d been properly groomed, and therefore reduce risk of failure;
  • There are sadly still so few role models in my industry with women leadersand especially mothersin the top job; and finally,
  • There was a voice inside me, which at Linkage we refer to as the Inner Critic, whispering that I wasn’t sure I was qualified.

Fast forward six months into my role as CEO of Linkage, a company dedicated to the acceleration of the development and readiness of leaders at all levels, with a specialty in the advancement of women leaders and creating cultures of inclusion.

While the increased awareness of the need for women’s leadership is encouraging, I am a personal testimony to the fact that the hurdles to advancement for women often begin with overcoming our own doubts, and trusting the men and women who believe in us.

Overcoming self-doubt as women leaders is something Linkage researches and studies extensively, so we can support our clients to advance their own women leaders. We’ve published a new book this year targeted at rising women leaders, titled Mastering Your Inner Critic and 7 Other High Hurdles to Advancement, along with a white paper for organizations who are serious about enhancing business outcomes by investing in women’s leadership: Advancing Women Leaders: Changing the Game for Women in the Workplace.

Women leaders, I challenge you in 2019 to look at how you may be limiting your own potential. Is your Inner Critic holding you back from taking the next step in your career? Share your personal experiences and stories with us by leaving a comment. This is a critical conversation we need to continue together. The world needs our leadership.

We’ve got this!



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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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