Women in Business
by Cindy Petitt
A question that coaches love to ask is “What would you do if you felt no fear?” Fear has many roots. You may be afraid of failing, being judged, feeling embarrassed, losing ground . . . or even of success.
The purpose of the question is twofold. It opens up thinking about possibilities and ambitions, and it increases awareness of how much fear robs us of our dreams and stifles our potential. There is no doubt fear is a stopper and a huge factor in undermining confidence. Even worse, fear puts us in a survival mode where we are reacting to life as it is, rather than creating the life we truly want. It’s not a pretty picture.
An antidote to fear is conviction. It is going deep into your core to become clear about what is important to you, where you want to make a difference and how you want to make a difference. In essence, it is becoming clear about what you want to stand for. When you find this conviction, it comes with a longing that is difficult to contain. It drives your focus; it makes you feel courageous because you know it is bigger than you. You can’t wait for the opportunity to make your mark, and most importantly, it feels very natural. Confidence emanates from your core and it commands respect.
Let me give you a personal example. At one point in my career I felt frustrated because I didn’t feel influential. I had a good track record for getting things done and achieving results. So my reputation was solid. I was a key contributor and a great implementer, but in spite of what others told me, I did not feel like a “shaper.” About the same time, there was another area of frustration eating at me, which was seeing the scars created in organizations over the issue of change. Either they went about making changes badly, or they were unwilling to make badly needed changes for fear they would be too disruptive. My angst crystalized into the conviction that all change can be implemented in a positive, growth inspiring way when done with compassion. This became my focus; to help my organization make the tough decisions and to implement them with an abundance of compassion. This was the influence I brought to bear when giving advice, commenting on proposals and designing programs. I sought out jobs where I could have this impact. I sought out opportunities to share ideas and facilitate discussions around how to create a better experience and outcome. My questions were consistent: Is this the right decision or the easier decision? How can we implement it in a way that shows employees we truly appreciate, value and care about them, and we care about how they are affected by this change? How can we soften the impact of a tough decision? How can we help employees feel supported so they know they are not on their own, and give them choices so they have more control over their own outcomes?
I was clear about the difference I wanted to make. I was certain that it would benefit the organization and our employees, and it did. My influence and impact grew tremendously—so did my confidence and courage. I was doing more than contributing to a project or program; I was helping to reshape the culture of the organization and the capacity of its leaders.
Some very fortunate people just know the difference they want to make, but most don’t. At best, if people feel empowered, they strive to make a contribution wherever they can. Many others lose themselves in organizations, even in small ones, and they try to survive by doing whatever that takes.
So how do you gain a sense of clarity and conviction? Although there is no magic formula, you do need to create the space and time for reflection. It helps to start with your values—getting clear on what you care deeply about, where you draw a line in the sand. Think about what changes you would make if you could create a “perfect” organization, community, or team. Examine your frustrations or where you feel incongruent with what is happening. You want to channel these feelings into a driving conviction, not to lead a rebellion, but to reframe thinking and redirect action. You want to pull people toward a better approach rather than push or force them.
Driving convictions that build confidence are not about self-righteousness, judgment, pleading or intimidation. The most impactful driving convictions are not motivated by the desire to receive more recognition, make more money, gain status or build a bigger empire. In contrast, driving convictions are most effective in achieving positive outcomes when they are connected with a genuine desire to achieve a greater good with passion and compassion. Driving convictions don’t have to be profound. They can be as simple as the desire to bring about greater collaboration, listening or demonstration of respect. If you want to be more confident or if you feel lost and want to find yourself, then uncover your convictions. Connect with that core part of you that is rock solid, and pivot from there.
Cindy Petitt is an executive coach and management consultant. She has conducted studies on factors that help and hinder the advancement of women to executive levels in male dominant corporate environments. She also conducts workshops for women on topics such as personal presence, communicating with influence, and leadership; and workshops for men and women on gender differences.