I was sitting with a group of accomplished and strong women in the middle of Austria’s Kitzbuhel mountains on a leadership retreat. We had just finished an individual “leadership journey” exercise where we addressed several questions around the values, experiences and challenges that shaped us. This was an individual “journey” and our answers to questions were not shared with others during the exercise.
As my female colleagues and I debriefed, we all realized there was one question we found particularly evocative. What is the number one thing that holds you back from being the leader you want to be?
While we learned that our male colleagues had a variety of responses, all seven of us women wrote down the very same thing: self-doubt. We were all literally convinced that fortune, luck and hard work got us to where we were – not our own abilities.
Despite a track record of success and proof that we were not impostors, we were all too familiar with the nagging voice of self-doubt that held us back from speaking up, owning our accomplishments and leaning in.
For me, one of the ways self-doubt took the strongest form was owning up to my achievements. When reflecting on moments of success, I remember thinking (and sadly often saying) things like “I got into business school because I was the admission department’s wild card!” or “I landed a consulting job because of a fluke in the system!” At work, when told I was doing great work, I remember saying out loud: “My bosses say I do good work because I work harder than everyone else” or “I’ve just been just lucky.”
Changing these reactions are not easy - it takes time and practice to reframe the role we play in owning our achievements and this is why I am leaning in.
I am leaning in to lead from a place of pride – not from a place of fear. I am leaning in so that instead of thinking – “what is the worst interpretation of what I just accomplished?” I instead think: “what am I most proud of with this and how can I do it again?”
I am leaning in so that women and men I manage in the future see me as someone who takes pride in her work and whose self-confidence encourages others to own and take pride in their achievements.
I am leaning in so that saying “I did this,” “I earned this,” “I deserve this” starts to feel more normal.