When you work really hard to gain expertise in your field, you want to believe that your competence will earn you extra stripes and higher level positions. Turns out it’s confidence, more than competence, that makes the bigger difference. More than mere bravado, authentic confidence comes from believing in your competence, trusting your abilities, having faith in your instincts, and conquering the fear of failure.
Many women lack the same level of confidence and self-esteem that men have. While some level of explanation may be rooted in physiological differences, most of it is social. In a 2015 study on Age and Gender Difference in Self Esteem, Wiebke Bleidorn and her research team studied nearly one million subjects from 48 nations. They found that worldwide, men systematically have higher levels of self-esteem than women, and that self-esteem increases with age from adolescence to adulthood. What is surprising about their study is this: the confidence gap between men and women is actually higher in industrialized, western, more egalitarian countries than in developing countries. How can we explain that?
It seems to me that in countries where women’s equality is guaranteed by law and where women expect to be treated as equals, the blow to self-esteem is much greater when women experience inequality, unconscious bias, and harassment.
So how can women overcome these deeply seated sociocultural norms to regain their confidence and self-esteem? Dr. Sharon Melnick is a leading authority on business psychology, stress resilience, and women’s leadership. According to Melnick, there are three main patterns that affect confidence levels:
Looping Self/Other Criticism
To rise above these patterns, we have to understand why we do them and be willing to move from what Melnick calls a “confidence seeker” to a “confidence contributor.” Once we can make the shift from looking to others for our confidence, we can begin to gain confidence from the true value of our contributions.
Dr. Melnick is a preferred facilitator for Momentum’s executive leadership class. This year Momentum is hosting a leadership series open to the community, and this week Dr. Melnick will conduct her “Confidence When it Counts” workshop January 16, 2019 at Samford University.
How many of us have made a list of New Year’s resolutions that we are already worried about keeping?
What if I told you there is one activity you can do that will keep your resolutions on track? This one thing is scientifically proven to improve your productivity, chances for success, physical health, mental health, emotional health and spiritual health. What if I told you that you could achieve life-changing results in just 10-20 minutes sessions, several times per week? Finally, would you believe me if I told you that it’s completely free? I am normally deeply suspicious of any such “silver bullet” claim, but in this case it is 100% true.
The number-one thing you can do to stay on track with your goals is to keep a regular journal.
Journaling clarifies thinking. The act of writing engages the left side of the brain, the analytical and rational side, while the contemplation of the feelings you are having engages the right side of the brain, the creative and intuitive side. Getting the two sides of the brain focused on a goal, challenge, issue, or trauma focuses all of our brain power for greater clarity of thought and keeps us from getting in our own way of achieving goals.
Journaling helps prioritize. Nobody has time to write about everything that happens and the feelings that result. So when we do sit down to write, we naturally write about the most important things. This helps us to keep our priorities top of mind and reminds us not to let busy-work hijack our days. Journaling about your resolutions, and progress towards them, will keep your priorities straight.
Journaling heals emotional pain. We all experience disappointment, and even emotional trauma, at some point in our lives. Journaling focuses the mind on the specific event and how we feel about it. As we write, we are working through the healing process at our own pace. Generally speaking, people can only write about their emotional pain so many times before feeling moved to take action. When we are free from pain we have much more energy to focus on goals.
Journaling promotes gratitude. In addition to writing about what plagues us, we also write about what brings us joy, about our blessings, about what we have to be thankful for. Putting our gratitude in writing is tremendously affirming, and gives new weight and meaning to life.
Journaling reveals our higher purpose. As we work through the events causing us emotional stress and become cognizant of all that we have to be thankful for, we attain a level of psychological health that allows us to contemplate what it’s all for! Journaling often leads you on a spiritual journey where you discover what feeds your soul, drives your passion, forms your values, and guides your choices.
So why don’t more adults keep a regular journal? As with many things that are good for us, we simply don’t make the time. The good news is this: you don’t need a lot of time to benefit from journaling! In fact, many experts recommend shorter, more frequent journaling of 15-20 minutes several times per week. If you think you don’t have enough time to journal, think again. The clarity that emerges from regular journaling actually creates more time by keeping us focused on what’s important and shortening our decision-making processes.
At year-end, life is getting pretty hectic for the working woman right about now. Many companies are closing out a fiscal year, budgeting for next year, conducting annual reviews, analyzing inventories, and making year-end purchasing decisions. While this type of work is equally dispersed between women and men, that’s not always the case.
On the home front, the majority of holiday preparation is done by women. From shopping, to meal prep, to sending greeting cards, to decorating the home and wrapping gifts, women are far more likely to take on additional tasks at home. At work, many women are “asked” to “volunteer” for tasks that have nothing to do with their job description, such as helping with holiday party planning, decorating the office, or sending client gifts.
Why do we do this to ourselves?
Many women feel both pressure and desire to make the holidays special for their families. In families where only the man worked, it makes more sense for the majority of the home care to fall to the woman. But with couples who both work, open communication is key to defining what you want from the holidays and who will do which tasks. How important is the holiday card? Do all of the decorations your mom gave you have to be put out? Can the family opt to draw names for gifts, or make contributions to a charity in lieu of gifts this year? Can you agree on lights around the front door rather than the whole house? Perhaps you limit the number of social invitations you will accept. Ask the question: if I don’t enjoy it, why am I doing it? Find ways to include your partner, kids, and outsourcing services to help in holiday preparations.
In the workplace, women can suggest a team approach to “office housework.” When asked to plan the office party, recommend a more representative approach with men and women to take on the tasks. Office cards, decorations and client gifts can usually be outsourced. Clean-up after holiday festivities should likewise be everybody’s job. Depending on the size and environment at your office, it may make sense too rally a few allies (especially executives) to support taking a new approach to holiday planning.
On January 16th, we will host the second workshop in our Momentum Leadership Series. Our speaker is Dr. Sharon Melnick, the author of “Success Under Stress: Powerful Tools for Staying Calm, Confident and Productive with the Pressure is On.” During the month of December we will feature some of Dr. Melnick’s advice on this blog to help out with managing the holiday crunch!
Throughout my career in the Army and in post-retirement, I have been asked by audiences to give them some guidance on getting their careers off on the right foot or help staying on course. I was not one to use a script to give speeches, but I have had time to pull out and review my scribbled 3-by-5 handwritten cards. The topics below have remained consistent during my over 40 years of leading people.
Set your moral compass to True North
Manage your reputation
Find your passion
Play for the team
I grew up in a family with parents that taught me values through their actions. I feel fortunate to have had wonderful role models teach me to set my moral compass to True North. I understand we all need forgiveness for some actions we may have taken in the “folly of our youth.” However, there are some mistakes that are seemingly impossible to move past. Those are typically the ones that deal with ethical, legal, or moral missteps. When it comes to parents, I won the lottery. If you were not as fortunate to get a firm grounding when you were growing up, find someone that can mentor you and learn by observing those you respect.
You have but one reputation in life – and it is yours to manage. In this day and age of 2018, with all the recording devices and 24-hour coverage, people are watching your every move. And for those in a leadership role – the spotlight is always on. I had a friend of mine who unfortunately had too much to drink at a work function; everyone was talking about him on Monday morning. He soon noticed that even though he had not repeatedly done this, people still talked about him after each work social function. As an experiment, he completely gave up drinking and to his amazement, people still reported how slammed he had gotten. Perceptions are just as important as the truth; they can hurt you and your reputation. Decide how you want people to “see” you and live your life accordingly. Differentiate yourself from the crowd in a positive way. My three touchstone words are dignity, compassion, and respect. That is how I want people to remember me so that is how I try to conduct myself in work and in life. Even when I have had to fire someone, I aimed to do so in a respectful and compassionate manner.
After entering active duty, I completely understood that if I was told to be in formation at 0600 hours (6 AM), I would there on time. However, I have learned not everyone is so accountable. Undoubtedly you will eventually run into the person that is always late or the one that didn’t complete his part of planned, collaborative work. If you need help becoming accountable, find an accountability partner; someone you can trust to tell you like it is. People find it harder to disappoint people they care about, so having a partner can help you stick to achieving your goals.
You are young but once – find your passion. A lot of people aren’t driven by or focused on a certain career path at a young age. We go to college to figure out what we think we want to do. We begin enjoying courses focused in one area but still may not have considered how we will use our education. To those that read this and identify with it – I get it. I found my calling as I was approaching 30 years of age. For some, life will line up and you will work in an area where your passion matches your job opportunities. I find most people that work in non-profits are passionate about that particular cause. However, not everyone can make a living by working where their passion lies, but hopefully you can find a way to keep it central in your life. Passion gives you energy and excitement and a sense of worth that helps keep your spirit strong.
Teamwork is key to life. Whether you have professional or personal goals to achieve, a team can make you more capable. Even our greatest athletes have coaches that continually help them maintain their greatness. Many workplaces are multi-generational and have individuals from varying life circumstances. Younger professionals strive to hone their skills and become acknowledged experts. Your 20s are a great time to develop your technical and people skills. I aim to work with people that have strengths where I feel less adequate. I also enjoy diverse people than bring different viewpoints to the group. Winning teams have shared visions, but relish individual differences and use them to benefit the group.
Cultivate long-term relationships. Having a pool of people from different backgrounds and opinions is a source of strength. It was difficult for me to learn to include some people whose company I did not particularly care for. It’s enjoyable to work solely with friends; super really. But being able to appreciate the skills of someone that pulls you out of comfort zone requires patience and a certain amount of savviness that comes with practice. Look, we all need people and one day you are going to need “that” person; the one you aren’t so keen on. You will be far ahead of the game if you have already developed a relationship with them. I also believe having a plentiful pool of people you can count on is the foundation to leading a rich, fulfilled life.
In today’s competitive environment we have a tough time separating work time from down time. Those devices that bring us great joy are the same ones that interrupt our family and play time. We are eager to achieve success at work and at home, but those lines have blurred. Some people feel guilty when they take time away from work to enjoy life, but then don’t enjoy life because they are worried about work. To this I say – choose happiness. Reflect, celebrate goodness, and good things. Stay in the moment with those you care about. Celebrate other people’s achievements as you would your own. When you overhear conversations that sound negative, turn the words you heard around, and think about how it could be stated in a positive way. Today’s actions feed tomorrow’s happiness. Optimism fuels optimism, happy people brew happy environments. It actually is that simple.
Part of Momentum’s strategic plan is to expand our efforts to involve men as advocates for women in leadership. We call it “Men with Momentum.” Recently the committee in charge of this initiative designated two representatives from their companies to attend a work group meeting on diversity and inclusion initiatives, graciously hosted by Encompass Health and facilitated by Momentum alumnae Anne Marie Seibel and Crissy Carlisle.
During the workshop participants from BBVA, Bradley, Encompass Health, Protective Life, Southern Research Institute, and UAB shared the metrics and data their companies examine to measure effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs. Encompass Health and BBVA Compass both presented the data warehouses and reporting tools they use to track metrics such as demographics, hiring outcomes, satisfaction ratings, and retention scores. Beyond the data, the group discussed practices that lead to better outcomes in terms of on-boarding, career advancement, awareness training, and measuring impact.
By the end of our session one thing was very clear: everyone in the room would benefit from regularly scheduled sessions to share experiences. Working together to determine inclusion practices that get results will produce far greater gains than trying get there alone. Momentum is proud to serve as a facilitator and resource for this important work. Our committee will meet again in November to discuss next steps, and you can count on seeing more news about Men with Momentum in 2019!
The October session for our executive leadership class will focus on strength training. No, we are not doing dead-lifts and squats. We are bringing in certified-strength trainer Gwen Hall from North Carolina to work with the class on how to leverage their strengths and manage around their weaknesses.
This got me thinking about the common strengths shared by most women that make them effective leaders. Women tend to have a high degree of self-awareness as well as organizational awareness, the two primary factors in emotional intelligence that have been tied to top performers. Learning how to self-manage or manage relationships is equally important, and a woman’s ability to do that increases with experience. I am was more interested in learning about studies that have been done to test women on leadership competencies, and what the data could tell us.
I found an excellent study conducted by Zenger/Folkman and published in the Harvard Business Review. The authors mention that public perception is that men are more competitive, results-driven, and women are better nurturers, relationship-builders. What their study found is that women scored higher than men on 12 out of 16 leadership competencies…and two of the traits where women “outscored men to the highest degree–taking initiative and driving for results–have long been thought of as particularly male strengths.”
Perhaps one way to explain why women score higher is that because of bias, either explicit or implicit, women have to work harder to earn respect, recognition, and rank, plus they are often doubly scrutinized and thus have little margin for error.
My big take-away from this study is that women may be surpassing men in demonstrating leadership competencies because they have to be twice as good to be recognized half as much. As the playing field becomes more level, hopefully we’ll see a time when men and women are evaluated equally and everyone is in encouraged to work to achieve their full potential leveraging their strengths.
Successful business women are great at building relationships with other women and supporting one another in doing charitable or civic work. That said, they are often reluctant to do business together– to the point where the mere mention of doing business can seriously threaten a solid friendship.
I was bemoaning this fact to a friend recently and she pointed me to an article in Fortune magazine entitled “How Friendship Holds Women Back in Their Careers – and What They Can Do About It.” In the article, the author, tech exec Mallun Yen states that after interviewing dozens of women, she concluded there is a “false dichotomy between personal relationships and the transactionality of business.”
Yes. Amen. Also WTH?
I cannot tell you how many prospecting calls I sat in with my former partner (a man) where the conversation ended with “how can we do business with each other?” Or “can you send us some business?” Not only was this not uncomfortable, it was expected. And the follow through on any promises of business made in the meeting was staggeringly high.
Contrast this with Yen’s observation:
“Women who received an ask from a friend said they didn’t expect their friends to hit them up for business and when they did, it sometimes caused an unspoken tension that dampened their enthusiasm for the relationship. Some even began to doubt the true motives behind the friendship in the first place. Others went so far as avoiding those who might ask for business later.”
She adds “women tend to struggle when it comes to mixing money and friendship, cutting themselves off from one of the most effective tactics in the constant struggle to get ahead.” Is this due to the classic stigma women have in their minds: ‘don’t mix business with pleasure’?
Men have been mixing business with pleasure for centuries. This form of prospecting is the basis on which many business and sales practices exist. What better person to refer work to than someone you already know and trust?
I often find myself on the receiving end of women’s reluctance to mix business and friendship. I know many amazing women who are in very high-profile corporate positions, however, very few of them are in a sales role. When we spend time together, whether it is socially or in a business setting, I often get the feeling that they are on guard around me. Is it because they know I am in a sales role? Side note – this is a topic for another day, however, real estate brokers are consultants who provide specialized and proven value-added services; our role goes beyond sales.
Now, if I want to attend an event one of these women is involved in, they are happy to help. One of the commenters on Wen’s article observed, “My female friends are more likely to support the ‘soft’ benefits: speaking opportunities, events and attendance at women-only gatherings.”
When I try to get a meeting to discuss their company’s real estate needs, it can be a different story.
Assume for table stakes that I am good at my job. I have been a tenant representative office advisor for twenty-five years across the United States, have graduate degrees in both law and business, and write a professional blog to ensure that I am always learning and growing in my field. When I propose my services to a potential client, I am not asking them to take a chance on me because I am trying to get my career off the ground. I am qualified and capable.
That said, I find that I am less likely to get fair consideration for business from a female friend than from a complete stranger, or even a male friend for that matter. Wen’s theory? “Trying to make the leap directly from intense personal relationships to business can feel abrupt and awkward to both sides. So the very thing about female friendships that is deservedly celebrated may also be holding us back from generating vital business with each other.”
I have to stop and ask myself whether I make an effort to do business with my women friends. Or am I just as guilty of this bias?
Sometimes, I do make an effort. But not always. My inability to answer “always” is often a result of my concern about the appearance of favoritism; a concern I think is misplaced. If a woman is capable and a friend, why wouldn’t I choose to do business with her over someone else?
What does this mean for me going forward?
Two things. First, I am going to make an effort to identify and reach out to my women friends when I have a business opportunity for them. Second, I am going to make sure that I welcome other women to approach me with their business requests. They need to feel safe asking me for business. And that is up to me.
Yen suggests one of the best ways to make that happen is to consider addressing the elephant in the room and “acknowledge the awkwardness that can arise” when you scaffold from a personal relationship to a business one. What does this look like? Perhaps you begin the conversation with “I would like to talk to you about your company’s real estate needs and whether I could provide value to you relative to those needs. I realize we are friends so I would only be raising this subject with you if I thought I was qualified and our doing business together would reflect positively on you in your business role.”
This is not a feminist issue. This is straight-up business with friends whom you know and trust to get the job done. Join me?
One of the exercises we do at the Momentum opening retreat is called Emotional Contagion. Participants are asked to stand and walk around the room. One person is asked to frown deeply, look concerned, stressed or sad. In less than a few minutes the bad vibe is picked up and reflected by everyone in the room. Then another person is asked to change that frown to a hopeful happy face. Like the sun after a storm, the good mood fills the room in no time.
Our attitudes are contagious, and great leaders know how to cultivate a positive outlook, even in the face of great adversity. Most of the time, we cannot change the situations we are in. We can’t change the deadline or the difficult customers we are serving, but at the end of every day we can control our attitude. We control how we approach and react to every situation. Momentum facilitator Dr. Sharon Melnick explores the idea of focusing our energies on the 50% of things we can control in her book “Success Under Stress.” (Tip: you can download an excerpt from her book on her website for free!)
Here are a few more tips on how to maintain a positive attitude, even when the going gets tough.
Know that you are resilient. Celebrate failure as a learning opportunity and bounce back with vigor.
Set time-bound, measurable goals. Getting clarity about what we want to achieve and by when leads to intentional living, a sense of purpose, and satisfaction.
Celebrate victories, even small ones. Big wins are made from little steps that take us to the end goal. Rejoice at the milestones along the way and invite others celebrate with you!
See the bigger picture. What feels like an impossible situation “on the ground” can have a simple solution when viewed from 10,000 feet. Get a new perspective to help you shift your attitude.
Take action. Put yourself out there and take some risks. Let your passion guide you and refuse to be defined by fear.
Practice random acts of kindness. Giving back or helping someone will not only brighten someone else’s day, it brings joy to our own.
Finally, be grateful. An attitude of gratitude can affect how successful and content we are. Even on our worst days, we have so much to say thanks for.
The way we view challenges and approach others says a lot about ourselves. It also says a lot about how far we will go. Let’s be willing to train our brain to see the positives in every situation and encourage others to do the same.
We all have days when work feels overwhelming and we may not take the time to speak to a coworker in the parking lot or put away the mobile phone at the coffee machine. Yet, it is opportunities like these to engage with others, even on a surface level, that build social capital.
While some relationships with coworkers form naturally, others need time and attention to grow. It may feel awkward to strike up a conversation with someone who works in a different department or is much higher (or lower) in the hierarchy. Simply opening a conversation with a comment about the coffee, the weather, or the new landscaping outside is a good start. If time permits, ask what your coworker is working on today. We don’t have to have an agenda driving every conversation, we just need to take the time to build that social capital. Here are a few good reminders:
Be energetic without being over-eager.
Ask questions that genuinely interest you, and really listen to the answer.
Attitude and emotions are contagious, so check yours before you engage.
Stay optimistic. Even if your coworker is complaining, don’t add to their load. Be part of the solution.
CEO and entrepreneur Margaret Heffernan has an insightful and entertaining TED Talk on social capital that is well worth the watch. She explains that companies who encourage interaction between teams produce better results. At the end of the day, people need people and we never know what we can do for someone else or where that relationship could take us. Investing in social capital may be the very best thing we can do to make work meaningful.
You’ve done the research. You’ve turned in the resume and the cover letter. You got a call back, an interview, and now it’s time for the real show to start. Now you step up to the plate and you give it your best shot, but don’t do it blindly or all your hard work might not matter.
Interviews can be scary and intense. They test how well we can handle off-beat questions on the spot, our self-awareness, our talents, our experience, and even where we think we want to go.
Some say it’s good to spend two hours researching before the interview. Be familiar with their LinkedIn page, blog (if they have one), website and statistics for the year. Check Glassdoor.com (to see what past employees have said about the company and sometimes potential interview questions), their company culture, their expectations, and whatever else we think could be valuable information. It’s also important that we have questions prepared to ask them. All of this content will give you some ammunition with they ask if you have any questions for them.
We don’t want to be tripping over questions in a big interview, unaware of our “biggest weaknesses” or unable to articulate our accomplishments. Maybe we need to call on a friend to ask us questions or practice in the mirror. We want to prepare the outfit and make sure we feel comfortable and confident in it, sending the right tone and message.
Third, have patience.
If we walk into big interviews stressed about how much we want or need the job, we may not be able to give it our best shot and show our best selves. At the end of the day we need to sell ourselves, explain why we would be such an incredible asset to the team, why they ultimately need us. But we also need to understand that they’ve probably interviewed a lot of candidates and we don’t want to walk in and blab only about ourselves. Because chances are, unless they ask, they don’t care. We need to have questions prepared and be focused on our value to the organization, not just on ourselves.
Being interviewed can be intimidating, but when we think about it like a conversation, one where we get to know the company better and imagine how we would best fit in, it’s easier to showcase where we could add value.