Leading the Way

“Be good”; “Be kind and compassionate”; “Respect your elders”; “Study well for a better future” – these are some of the statements that we grow up hearing as girls (as kids, in general), and ultimately these become our guidelines to be a good human being. Morally speaking, these are important values that every child must learn. However, most times, statements/ questions which are equally important are omitted:

  •  “What is the one skill you want to develop this year as a grade 5 student?”
  •  “Why don’t you share your point of view?/ What are your thoughts on this?”
  •  “Stand for what’s important to you!”

It is not a surprise then that a majority of women leaders are underconfident when they enter the workforce or find it difficult to ask for what they need in order to succeed. A study titled ‘Women In the Workplace 2019’ by McKinsey & Company highlighted a jaw-dropping fact, “If first-level women managers were hired and promoted like men, there would be 1 million more women in management over the next five years.” 1

During my conversations with women entrepreneurs and leaders, one pattern that has clearly emerged that stops us from moving ahead is this – As women, we are quick to criticize and delayed in acknowledging our own skillsets.

The first step to mitigate this – Stop constantly questioning yourself and start taking action to keep moving upward and onward. Ask yourself – What’s the worst that can happen? (WTWTCH)

Think about the time when you were a child. When you first started walking, you did so without the fear of falling or hurting yourself. You fell, but then you would rise and start taking your tentative steps again. If you were paralyzed by fear then, you would have never learned how to walk. Similarly, as leaders and entrepreneurs, deep down we do believe that we have the strength and the capability…you just need to believe in yourself. Self-criticism works when it leads to growth and development, but it can have a debilitating impact if it stops serving you and leads to inaction.

Personally speaking, it took me 10 years to say out loud that I lack confidence. I was painfully aware of where that underconfidence stemmed from. As soon as I acknowledged that fact, I started taking remedial actions. My first step was to find a mentor and the next step was to work with my strengths and outsource what didn’t come naturally to me. In one word, the feeling was liberating.

Here are just some of the ways in which we can all grow without fear:
     1. Say Yes to Opportunities
“Just say yes. Use any fear as motivation to be successful. That fear will then turn into confidence.” Adena Friedman President & CEO, Nasdaq

According to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper, women consistently rated their performance on a test lower than did men, even though both groups had the same average score. Where men on average gave themselves a 61 out of 100, women gave themselves a 46 out of 100.2

You need to rewire yourself to say yes to opportunities that can advance your career. You can start by asking ‘WTWTCH?’. Separate your effort from the expectation of the desired result. When you put yourself and your aspirations out there, it is quite possible that you may not get what you aimed for. For instance, you may be passed over for promotion, or you may not get the pay raise you desired or you may be labeled as being ‘overly ambitious’. At least you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you made the attempt. Acknowledge the fear that impedes you and then take the bull by its horns.

You cannot possibly fail at what you are doing unless you stop trying.

     2. Find your sponsor
Women leaders have repeatedly highlighted the role of a sponsor in their success. Yet, in a survey conducted by KPMG, 92% of the professional women interviewed mentioned that they did not feel confident while asking for sponsors and 79% lacked the confidence to seek mentors. 3

Depending on what level you are at within the organization, you can either be a sponsor or actively seek a sponsor, or even better, you can do both. When a woman leader reaches out to her junior female associate, it can lead to several benefits like breaking systematic bias, shattering the glass ceiling, opening up opportunities that otherwise would not have existed, bridging the gender gap at the workplace.

If you want to propel your career, seek a sponsor actively, get their attention by setting clear goals, ask them for their sponsorship, claim what is rightfully yours – WTWTCH?

     3. Clarity of goals
What is your vision? How do you plan to achieve it? What is the support system you can put in place to achieve that vision?

Having a clear vision or a set of goals is a prerequisite to growing as a professional. If you lack that clarity, no amount of support or taking up new opportunities will help you.

 Some things to consider while setting your goals:

  • You can choose to use one of the various models available out there for goal setting – SMART, FAST, CLEAR, etc. The one thing you may want to pay attention to when setting your goals is how you feel about these goals? Do they challenge you? Do they inspire you? Are they in line with your values? Asking these questions may sometimes prompt you to revisit your goals and that is fine, as long as you arrive at a goal/s that you believe in.
  • Once you set your goals, think of what supporting mechanism can you put in place. Who can you lean on? Who will be your accountability partner? When life throws curveballs at you, your accountability partner is the one who will ensure that you stay on track. This could be a friend, or a mentor, or a coach.
  • Pre-empt the obstacles that you may face when you try to achieve those goals and put a plan in place to overcome those challenges.

Your goals need to have built-in flexibility, so when the time comes, you can pivot as needed. Your grit and tenacity will play an important role in the attainment of your goals. If in doubt, just go back to the question, WTWTCH? Your choices today will pave the path for the women leaders of tomorrow. By not taking action now, you are doing a great disservice to the next generation, for whom you are the role model, the inspiration, and the motivation. As women, we handle multiple roles and a majority of us would like to ace in every role that we play – as a daughter, sister, friend, spouse, mother, leader. While it’s a lofty expectation to have, don’t forget to cut yourself some slack and treat yourself with kindness and compassion. Be confident in your abilities and do not hesitate to ask for what you have earned. WTWTCH! 


1(Source: Jess Huang, Alexis Krivkovich, Irina Starikova, Lareina Yee, and Delia Zanoschi, Women in the Workplace 2019 (LeanIn, McKinsey & Company, October 2019)

2The Harvard Gazette | Women less inclined to self-promote than men, even for a job (2020)

3KPMG Women’s Leadership Study | Moving Women Forward into Leadership Roles

First seen on Women Leaders

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