This is the third of my weekly reflections on Diana Bilimoria’s MOOC on Women in Leadership. This week focused on self-confidence and navigating organisational politics.
Key takeaways for me this week were:
- Focus on your successes; reflect regularly on where you’ve excelled, and highlight your best work into conversation with senior colleagues;
- Working longer hours does not always mean working better; and
- Seek out assignments that are challenging but where you know you can succeed.
There are many reasons why women’s self-confidence can be low, particularly the ‘double bind’ whereby we are seen to be either too passive to be leadership material, or too aggressive to lead a team. Women’s lack of self-confidence can flow from both conditioning and lived experience. It is a product of structural problems, not individual failings, and the article is not strong enough in tackling that issue head on. For example, in citing the research that women tend to negotiate their starting salary less frequently, and negotiate for lower sums, the article fails to reflect on the negative impact that negotiating hard for a high salary has on how women are evaluated by their colleagues and bosses, burying that fact towards the bottom of the article.
Bilimoria’s lectures address different sources of self-confidence for men and women, in particular for women: authenticity, self-efficacy, adaptability, and persistence. Her insightful discussion of voice and non-verbal communication was particularly interesting: voice “is about having the courage to say what needs to be said to improve the outcome, but in a way that can be heard”. Shouting louder is not necessarily the answer. Saying the right things in the right way to the right people. Now there’s the rub.
The report on the myth of the ideal worker highlights many of the same points. It’s aggregate of data posits an Ideal Worker as one who:
- Actively seeks high-profile assignments
- Rubs shoulders with influential leaders
- Communicates openly and directly about their career aspirations
- Seeks visibility for their accomplishments
- Lets their supervisor know of the skills and willingness to contribute
- Continually seeks out new opportunities
- Learns the political landscape or unwritten rules of the company
- Isn’t afraid to ask for help.
There were two exercises again this week. The first was to take and reflect on a Mindtools self-confidence assessment. I scored 50 in the assessment, which was at the top end of the “okay” band. I scored lowest on ‘mastery experiences’, or experiences where my own effort led to success. One of the suggestions for increasing the number of mastery experiences I have has made it into my list of key takeaways above: asking for tasks/roles where I know I can excel. I might need to fight for these assignments, if they are in areas where I have not already proven myself, but having a clear knowledge and belief about my own competences is an essential first step.
The second exercise was to map the power structure of my current organisation, as well as my relationships to the key influencers. This can be quite a difficult exercise unless one has a clear aim in mind, but I found it useful to reflect on the organisational structure and what concrete steps I could take to improve my own influence. This sounds Machiavellian, but it is important to know who can help, as a mentor or as a person with control over assignments, as well as who can hinder. And it’s also a good excuse to get out the colours pens!