Manage Self Doubt
Two Ways Women Executives Can Manage Self Doubt
Mar 20, 2020 5 min read

“An internal report at Hewlett-Packard revealed that women only apply for open jobs if they think they meet 100 per cent of the criteria listed. Men apply if they think they meet 60 per cent of the requirements. This difference has a huge ripple effect. Women need to shift from thinking ‘I’m not ready to do that’ to thinking ‘I want to do that — and I’ll learn by doing it.” — Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In.

While the voice of self-doubt is common to both men and women, women tend to give more room to it and step back from their true aspirations. Women tend to think about what they need to improve first or what skill they need to acquire, before attempting to move up in their career.

Self-doubt is an important aspect that needs addressing, because never before then now is the world ready to experience the unique perspectives, strengths and skills women bring to the workplace and in leadership.

I hear women, who are doing a tremendously good job at work, being suppressed by self-doubt. The inner critic can sound somewhat like this — You don’t have all the capabilities for this role, X is so much better than you, from the feedback received you are not creating the right impression/impact, first improve yourself then let's think of promotion etc.

I personally have experienced self-doubt when launching my coaching business in 2015. The voice in my head kept asking if ‘I Was Enough’? Have I gathered all the skills necessary to start my business? Do I need to have something more or BE something more? Have I done enough research and groundwork? Today I can see that my thoughts had no relevance, as I had everything I needed at the time to make my start!

So why do women tend to doubt themselves more?

  • Women feel they need to work harder to prove themselves in the workplace. So they want to do a really good job, leading to questioning their adequacy and wondering if they are doing enough.
  • Over the years ‘Leadership’ has been considered a male skill and sometimes women may suffer from an impostor syndrome in leadership roles.
  • Women tend to worry more about how they are being perceived than men do.
  • The lack of enough acknowledgement when compared to male siblings, in the formative years.
  • A woman can feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of home and work especially in some cultures and at times self-doubt becomes a strategy to play it safe from bigger opportunities. It becomes a protective voice and the result is some women can remain on the edge of possibilities.

Whatever the reason may be, self-doubt is a part of us and it is not always possible to get entirely rid of it! However, we can learn to manage it so that we can fulfil our hopes and desires.

Here are two tips to help women manage self- doubt

Adopt Realistic Self Talk

Let's say you are about to give a presentation to an audience you don’t know much about. You are experiencing a mix of emotions — anxiety, nervousness and anticipation. At this moment, your voice of self-doubt is telling you something like —Oh no I am sure people are not going to like this presentation, maybe I should have prepared a different topic. What if I sound totally foolish? This narrative triggers emotions like fear, apprehension and anxiety.

These are the moments when your inner narrative can either help you or disable you.

Taking a deep breath and changing your narrative to a more realistic one can sound like this — Okay, this topic may not resonate with everyone in the room, but there will be people who will find it useful. Let me focus on making it as interesting as I can and meaningful for everyone. This thinking triggers totally different emotions such as anticipation and optimism.

When self-doubt is very active, we criticize ourselves with harsh, blanket statements that are not a true reflection of who we truly are and our reality. For eg ‘I am terrible at communication’ is a general negative statement. A more realistic one is ‘I am good with my language, I just need to improve my tone of voice and non-verbal communication to be more engaging and effective. This thinking is focused on the core issue and solutions to create successful changes.

Adopt the Right Mindset

Sara worked in a multinational for several years. Finally, a leadership position opened up in her department. She wanted to apply for it because she saw several opportunities to turn things around for the better.

However when it was time to apply she, felt hesitant and not completely ready. Her intention weakened further as fears of failing in the role kept playing in her head. The thought of failing terrified her, so she decided to wait and grow more in her skills to ensure she was failure-proof and confident.

The opportunity was lost and Sara had to wait for several years before another one came up.

Carol Dweck in her book ‘ Mindset’ talks about the Growth and the Fixed Mindset. The fixed mindset is that which wants us to succeed at all costs and we want to feel safe and do the things that ensure our success. This mindset gives wide room for the voice of self-doubt because our self-esteem is dependent on external validation, thereby limiting us.

The growth mindset on the other hands helps us view all experiences as learning opportunities from which we grow as human beings and in leadership too. Had Sara adopted the growth mindset she might have decided that learning practical leadership lessons from making mistakes would help her grow and evolve as a leader. She would learn passionately along the way even as she used her resources and current set of skills.

Final thoughts

Self-doubt will always be a part of ourselves and our journey. Often we do not feel fully ready for working in the bigger field or progressing to higher levels. In such situations believing we are enough, trusting ourselves means taking a leap of faith and knowing we will fall on our feet and will be okay to move ahead.

Recommended Book: Playing Big by Tara Mohr

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