In the past 16 years, I’ve focused intensively on researching key behaviors, traits and factors that hold professionals back from achieving the success and reward they want in their careers and specific actions people can take to support the achievement of their most thrilling professional visions.
Of course, there are many factors involved in our ability to achieve the success we want, including luck (and a mindset that helps us expand serendipity in our lives), as well as our connections and network, being in the right place at the right time, having powerful mentors and sponsors, and focusing consistently on expanding our essential skills and professional toolbox. But far more potent than those factors is how you view yourself internally, and the level of confidence you have in yourself, your ideas, and your talents. Confidence is key to success and wellbeing, as is your ability to embrace positive power and close your power gaps, muster the bravery to push forward out of your comfort zone, believing in yourself and taking on new opportunities to make a greater impact in meaningful and fulfilling ways.
Do you feel that your confidence is lacking in some core way? Do you falter in your belief that you can achieve what you want to, or that you’re in fact “worthy” of doing great things in your work? One indicator of the level of confidence people have (or lack thereof) is the prevalence of the “imposter syndrome.” When people experience imposter syndrome, they believe they don’t truly deserve the role they’re in. They perceive that any success they’ve had isn’t due to their own merits. This is a truly self-limiting way of being.
Unfortunately, a large majority of executive women are experiencing imposter syndrome today. A recent KPMG research found that 75% of executive women identified having experienced imposter syndrome at various points during their careers—and 85% believe it is commonly experienced by women across corporate America. In the study, imposter syndrome was defined as the inability to believe your success is deserved as a result of your hard work or the fact you possess distinct skills, capabilities and experiences. Instead, your inclination is to internalize that you got where you are by other means such as luck, or being in the right place at the right time.
At the heart of this syndrome is an inherent lack of confidence in who we are and what we have to offer. When we lack confidence, it’s usually very apparent, not only to ourselves but to other people around us as well, including your manager, colleagues, employees and partners. It’s been said that “everything is energy” and that certainly is true when it comes to being able to read the energy of the person standing in front of you. We automatically (and typically unconsciously) assess if the energy of that individual is confident and self-assured, or something else.
There are key ways that one’s lack of confidence becomes apparent to others, and these obvious confidence gaps can impede our ability to achieve what we want, both professionally and personally. Confidence challenges also impact our ability to build healthy, productive relationships and partnerships.
Below are five ways that your lack of confidence is most likely apparent to those around you and is hurting you:
#1: You question your own ideas, thoughts and opinions, and hesitate to share them openly
Lacking confidence in your own thoughts and ideas will hold you back from sharing them and from contributing at the highest level in your work and projects. If you continually doubt the strength and importance of your ideas and opinions, you’ll lose the ability to shape the direction of your projects (and your role) in ways you feel are right and productive. And your voice will not be heard.
Tip: Ask yourself, “Do I hold back in meetings and gatherings from expressing my ideas? Do I hesitate to share my thoughts or opinions for fear they will be ridiculed or negatively judged?” If so, you’re withholding – out of fear – your hard-earned learnings, insights and ideas that would be of great benefit to your own success and that of your team.
#2: You agonize over whether you are succeeding in your leadership, performance, presentations and projects
Another way that our lack of confidence is evident to others involves self-questioning, self-doubt and insecurity about how we’re faring in our roles and in our leadership and management approach. I’ve worked with many new managers, for instance, who haven’t had the opportunity to lead before, and they often feel deeply insecure about how to “manage managers.” They fear that their lack of managerial experience will lead to the ultimate failure of their teams.
Tip: Ask yourself, “Do you obsess about how you did in your recent presentation or leading a project, and can’t get it out of your mind? Do you ask others how you did, but don’t believe them when you receive positive feedback? Do you go over and over in your head the small details that you feel you didn’t handle well enough?”
#3: You are hyper-critical of yourself and others
In my time as a therapist, I learned that how we view and talk about others is a direct reflection of the way in which we feel about ourselves. In other words, kind, loving and generous people are usually accepting and forgiving of themselves first. Those feelings inevitably flow over into their interactions with, and perceptions of, others.
On the other hand, those who are relentlessly critical of others are usually terribly hard on themselves. It starts with how you feel about yourself.
Tip: Ask yourself, “Am I very critical of others, and I easily find fault in people or find them lacking somehow? Am I angry at people a lot, feeling they don’t live up to my expectations? If so, would I say that I’m that way towards myself as well? Am I extremely hard on myself and often fall into perfectionistic overfunctioning behavior?
#4: You’re threatened by the success of others
We all know folks who can’t find it in themselves to be happy about the success of others. They reveal (often unintentionally) through their words, mannerisms, facial expressions and body language that they are jealous of other people’s good fortune and success.
If you find you’re not happy to see other people thrive and succeed, there’s probably an underlying reason having to do with your own lack of confidence and a feeling of a lack or scarcity in terms of the degree of success you’ve experienced that makes you resent others’ success.
Tip: Ask yourself “How do I feel when my colleagues are praised for their achievements and have been recognized for their successes? Does it make me happy for them, or do I feel threatened and insecure about my own accomplishments and think less of myself because of them?”
#5: You fail to recognize and articulate clearly what you’re good at and the talents you have
This inability to recognize and state clearly what you’re truly good at is what I refer to as a “power gap.” This is Power Gap #1, in fact, of the 7 damaging power gaps that prevent 98% of professional women and 90% of men from reaching their highest, most rewarding and thrilling potential in their work and roles.
Based on my recent research, this particular power gap shows up more prominently among women, and 66% of women I’ve surveyed share that they are facing this power gap today. The problem here is that is you can’t recognize or talk about the talents and skills you have, you’ll struggle to make full use of these talents in rewarding ways.
Tip: If you find it difficult to even name what you’re good at, or articulate the specific capabilities you have and why those matter, you will falter when it comes to landing new roles and projects that will be meaningful and exciting to you. And you’ll block your own ability to stretch and grow beyond where you are today because you don’t feel worthy of stepping up to greater leadership. And that lack of recognition will negatively impact your growth trajectory at your current organization and beyond.
In the end, confidence is a critical ingredient to success and is a trait that can be learned and expanded. Most of us aren’t born with confidence, although there are “confidence markers” that impact the way we see ourselves early on.
As Dr. Nate Zinsser, Director of the Performance Psychology Program at the United States Military Academy at West Point, shared in a recent interview, “real confidence is a quiet sense of certainty about oneself and one’s abilities, a sense of certainty that allows you to simply do what you are capable of doing without “thinking” about how you do it…Expecting confidence to ‘arrive’ is exactly what most people do and exactly why most people are disappointed. I am routinely amused and amazed by the number of people who admit that confidence is very important to personal and professional success, but then admit that they do nothing to build it up or ensure that they have it when they need it.”
Zinsser adds: “What they need to do is work on their confidence the same way they work on all their other important attributes—putting time and energy into building confidence just as they put time and energy into building their physical fitness or their professional skill sets. Fortunately, the time and effort needed to develop confidence is rather small but pays huge dividends.”