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Confidence, Contempt, and the Return to Worthiness

April 13, 2016 Susan MacKenty Brady

In “Women leaders, it’s time to own our part of the problem,” I shared seven common hurdles that women face as they ascend the leadership ranks. Mind you, I am not discounting the impact of organizational and systemic issues (lack of sponsorship, prevailing biases, policies not conducive to women, etc.), which are every bit to blame for compounding the problem. But, for the purpose of this blog series, I’ll be focusing on addressing the hurdles, which are within our control. I’ll offer practical insights and tools that I’ve learned from leaders, like you, who have helped shape my thinking along the way. My hope is that you will feel supported on your journey of self-discovery, and that these ideas will help you think about how you can become the very best leader that you can be.

Recently, I explored the foundational hurdle—bias—and how our assumptions can actually limit our impact as leaders. Today, I’m focusing on confidence. Evidence suggests that women suffer from a lack of self-confidence, but there is more to the confidence story than, well, confidence. The collective wisdom about confidence focuses mostly on getting ourselves “out there.” Going for it—despite thoughts that we may not be ready—is critically important. We also need to believe in our worthiness and learn how to stop the harsh thinking in our own heads about ourselves and others around us.

I published The 30-Second Guide to Coaching Your Inner Critic because of the countless women and men that I have met through my consulting work who are struggling not so much with the belief that they could do it (whatever “it” is) but more so with how they treat themselves and others as they navigate professional opportunities. My belief is that these musings of contempt and doubt about ourselves and others prevent us from playing big and limit our ability to step wholeheartedly and confidently into our roles as leaders.

Confidence is the belief that you are able to do things well. Worthiness is a favorable estimate or opinion of yourself or someone else. To maximize our potential as leaders, we must feel both confident and worthy. You can build confidence by taking actions or you can fake it. In fact, you can feel confident for periods of time without feeling worthy. And, the tendency that we have to contemplate how we or others aren’t enough (that contemptuous inner critic in all of us)—especially when we feel insecure—keeps us from feeling confident and worthy.

Worthiness is something you are. Is it a state of being, a belief. It is deeper and transcends confidence. If we feel worthy, we will more easily navigate our professional and personal lives, and ultimately achieve what we want. Our own musings of contempt can undermine our worthiness, putting us in a vulnerable position. Take, for example, two common scenarios that I see regularly in my work with women leaders. Let’s start with Joan. Joan had all the makings of a leader: she was fluent in her discipline, hardworking, articulate, and got along well with others. Joan knew that she was good at her job. She would please her manager by always coming through on her projects on time and under budget. She liked being on the sidelines—and wasn’t interested in being in the limelight. She believed that she didn’t deserve to be out front. Joan’s inner thought process and worrying kept her from speaking up, and showing up fully. Her inner dialogue of contempt was about herself. Her inner critic was leading the way; keeping her from the very thing that she knew she wanted: to be a leader in her profession.

Conversely, meet Samantha. She, like Joan, was on her way to being a leader at her firm. She was whip-smart, knew the business, and was good with people. Samantha, however, thought that not only her manager, but many individuals on her team generally didn’t get it. They were a constant annoyance to her, because they didn’t have their finger on the pulse of the latest market trends and therefore couldn’t make good decisions. At some point during her third year with the firm, Samantha started to lean back, convinced that she worked with an incompetent group of colleagues. She began to care less and less about the company’s success. She would eventually get the reputation as a “negative nelly.” Samantha’s feelings of contempt were about others. Her inner critic was large and in charge, and leading her farther and farther away from the very thing she said she always wanted: to be a leader in her profession.

While Joan and Samantha had different thought processes and experiences, both may be showing up with a lack of confidence or are likely experiencing feelings of inner contempt. And, as a result, they may be perceived as not having what it takes to advance.

The reality is: what we think and feel drives what we say and do. When we veer off course, we create unintentional impact that can have big implications on our professional growth and leadership brands.

My advice is the same for both of them: have compassion for yourself and others and get really curious. I spell this out in different detail in my article Coaching Your Inner Critic which I co-wrote with marketing guru Dorie Clarke—check it out.

Speaking from my own personal experience, when we take on believing that we and others are worthy, and make a conscious return to compassion and respect, stepping in confidently takes on a whole new meaning.

Tell us: What musings of contempt keep you from leading confidently?

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