Women Put Competence Before Confidence

After a female executive presented to the board, one of the male board members perceived that she lacked confidence. Recalling the experience later, he said, “We talked about it after she left, and we all agreed (her problem) was her lack of confidence. For example, when asked how long before she felt ready for her next role, she said ‘probably two years.’”

"To the men in the room, this was unfathomable. In my experience, it’s very common. As women, we often wait until we’re competent before we feel confident, whereas men often feel confident before they’ve achieved full competence."
Michelle “Mitch” Shepard, founder of the Women in Real Life (WiRL) leadership summit 
According to Mitch, this story illustrates how differently men perceive women versus how women perceive themselves. "The men saw Jane’s thoughtful, careful, cautious approach as a lack of confidence," says Mitch. "I would have viewed it as a sign of humility and judged her as someone I could trust."
Mitch continued, "I would have perceived Jane’s honest reply as confidence of a different kind—the confidence to admit there are things she has yet to learn; the confidence to not think she has to be ready right now."
This story resonated with me. Without generalizing too much, I know a number of women who I perceive have less faith in themselves than I have in them. From my perspective, this holds them back. But perhaps my perception is dead wrong.
This is one reason of many why I'm excited to be speaking later this spring at the Women in Real Life leadership summit that Mitch founded; I'll be talking about bringing out talent in others. Stunningly different perceptions like this one - whether one is seeking competence or lacking confidence - represent giant roadblocks on the path to professional success.
Mitch advocates that women consider approaching new opportunities with courage, and that they consider stepping into new opportunities before feeling fully confident. She perceives that the two are connected; as she says, courage helps you earn confidence.
She offers three additional suggestions:
  1. Notice why you do and don't step into new opportunities. Awareness is the first step in changing your behavior, and your results.
  2. Think of a time that you exhibited courage and it paid off in higher confidence; use these stories as your fuel.
  3. Ask others whom you trust to tell you what strengths, talents and attributes they see in you. What do they think you are capable achieving?


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