Recently, I was coaching a professional executive well-respected by her boss…. She just wasn’t viewed as a high-potential by C-suite leaders—and she didn’t understand why. After all, she is an exemplary executive.

I gave her an exercise to help her understand what she’s unwittingly leaving on the table. Why don’t you try it yourself? Perhaps, you too are harming your career without knowing it.

Envision a leader who you know and admire. How does he or she greet people? How does this leader stand? How does he or she look at people? Imagine vividly this praiseworthy executive interacting with you and your co-workers. Take time to saturate yourself in the essence of the leader you esteem.

Now, close your eyes, and mentally imagine living inside this leader’s ‘beingness.’ Do you feel any different? In your mind’s eyes, how do you shake hands with those you meet as you wear the energy of this leader? Are you holding your body a bit more erect? Are your eyes gazing more directly into the eyes of others? Do you feel a tad bolder in your approach?

Is there a disparity between how you present yourself and how this leader acts?

If you’re like my client, you immediately feel a discrepancy. And the mismatch you experience is all the confidence and power you give up every day with each interaction and in all the meetings you attend.

As a women executive, you’re relating to the business world through your feminine cultural norms. United States researchers recently listed the most important attributes associated with “being feminine” in part as showing modesty by not calling attention to one’s talents or abilities.

Umm, can you see the problem for women in companies? Business was created 100’s of years ago by men. Even today this fundamental gender framework influences how organizations assess leadership capacity. External evidence of confidence is a vital component of a leader’s presence and as a woman, you believe you need to show modesty.

You think this can’t possibly be what is holding you back. It is.

In fact, confidence is just as significant an element of the success equation as competency.

Check it out:

  • Dunning and Ehrlinger found women rated themselves more negatively than the men did on scientific ability: women gave themselves a 6.5 on average, and the men gave themselves a 7.6. When it came to assessing how well they’d done, women thought they got 5.8 out of 10 questions right; men, 7.1. Their actual performance was almost the same—women got 7.5 right and men 7.9. How often do you underestimate your abilities to your detriment?*
  • Or how about Hewlett-Packard when they became curious why more women weren’t applying for higher-level positions. Their internal report reveals that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed, men apply if they deem they hit the 60 percent mark. How far behind does living by the women’s standard of competency rather than the business norm leave you?

Don’t allow confidence to be the factor that holds you back from being all you are intended to be. This is one equation that rests in your hands.


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