To begin your leadership journey, one of the first things you need to get your head around is that LEADERSHIP is not just about the title. It is a way of thinking and being, and it begins with trusting in yourself.
What is Self-Trust?
So what is self-trust and why is it important? Self-trust means that you can RELY on yourself—your strengths, skills, and experience. This in turn, gives you the CONFIDENCE and clarity of mind to make good choices and own those choices. It’s knowing that no matter what the outcome, that you’ll be OKAY.
Women, in general, tend to second guess themselves (perhaps because they don’t want to hurt people’s feelings) but this can cause challenges at work. For example, a woman leader who doesn’t trust herself may not speak up when something untoward happens or may find it hard to make difficult decisions, and this may negatively impact the team and their results. Trusting in yourself allows you to speak your truth and make the hard decisions that are best for the team and the organization.
Relying on yourself gives you confidence and this is especially important as a woman leader. For one thing, it builds trust in the team. For example, if you have confidence this will enable you to speak with authority when you communicate your decisions. Others will pick up on your confidence and trust you. Likewise, if you have the confidence to admit your mistakes, this will also build trust across the team. Thus, self-trust not only builds confidence on the inside, but it also builds trust on the outside.
Learning to Trust Yourself
So how do you learn to really trust yourself? To start, realize that in EVERY experience there are nuggets of wisdom to glean. Reflecting on your experiences and capturing what you have learned from them is critical information. Having a journal where you consistently write about your work experiences is a great way to document what happened in your week, how you felt about it, what you learned, and if necessary, how you could improve. In this way, you can discern what works well and what doesn’t. Writing it down enables you to capture the nuances of the situation and creates a log that you can refer to at a later date (like when you seek a promotion). It is also a place that you can complain and vent about what happened. Getting it all out is very important, just remember to REFLECT as well, so that when you re-read it, you can apply what you learned to new situations.
Another way of developing self-trust is to find out what you are capable of. This requires you to stretch past your comfort zone a bit. By doing mini-experiments (small risks) you can test the boundaries of your knowledge and skills. For example, I wrote in a recent post how I did a mock defence presentation in preparation for my real Ph.D. defence. I invited several girl-friends, rented out a board room and projector, and dressed up—essentially, I tried to make it as real as possible. Several things went wrong during this mock defence, but it did wonders for my confidence on the actual day. You can do mini-experiments to prepare for upcoming talks with your manager or co-workers, especially if you predict they might be difficult. You can even do a mini-experiment by saying “yes” to a new project, if you usually say “no.” By taking small discrete risks, and reflecting using your journal, you will begin to discover what you are capable of, to trust yourself more, and to be prepared for bigger risks down the road.
What happens if you make a mistake? Sometimes we lose trust in ourselves when we make a mistake, or someone criticizes us. Or sometimes we put off making a decision because we are afraid of making the wrong choice. The key here is to change your mindset, realize that “failures” or “mistakes” are just learning opportunities. I remember when I was considering leaving teaching to start my own business as a Leadership Coach, I procrastinated on making the decision for many months (mind you, it was a BIG decision). That said, I was afraid of taking the leap because I did not know if the timing was right or if I had enough financial reserves. I finally made the decision when I realized I could always supply teach if I needed to. And as for the timing, well, when IS it ever a good time to start a business? The fact is that being in indecision is so stressful—it is sometimes more stressful than making the decision and living the results.
Finally, to build trust in yourself it is important to monitor how you talk to yourself. Negative self-talk can cause you to doubt yourself and your capabilities. A friend of mine once told me a story of a mother who wanted to instill confidence in her son. As a form of encouragement, every time he tried something new, she would say to him, “you are capable.” Then one day, the mother wondered out loud if she should do something. Her son who happened to be listening said, “you are capable, mommy.” Out of the mouth of babes, right? Well I am here to tell you that YOU are capable too! It is a process but start talking to yourself as if you were talking to a good friend. Giving yourself kindness in this way helps you to be resilient, especially when things do not go the way you have planned.
I began this article by saying that the leadership journey is one that begins on the inside. You must start the inner work now if you want to become a RIDICULOUSLY AWESOME woman leader. Even if you already have the leadership title, keep on doing the inner work so that when the next opportunity comes your way, you are ready.
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