Confidence is a Choice


Career success requires confidence as much as competence. Women now make up more than 56% of college students nationwide. Women make up half of the workforce. Studies show that companies that employ women in large numbers outperform their competitors on every measure of profitability. Female competence has never been more apparent, and yet, men are promoted faster and are paid more. Additionally, women are nearly absent at the top levels of management. How can this be? Many women hold themselves back because of an acute lack of confidence. The great news is that according to psychologists you can build self-confidence by choice. An executive coach can help you accelerate the process and break through this barrier. With work, you can close the confidence gap.

Risk-taking, accepting failure, resilience, and perseverance are essential to confidence building. Conversely, perfectionism, fear of competing, and people-pleasing behavior erode confidence. An executive coach can help you develop and practice behaviors that will elevate your confidence. You’ll learn both verbal and non-verbal behaviors, such as expansive body language, calm and relaxed communication, and techniques to stop worrying that you might fail. If your inner critic consistently whispers that “you are not good enough,” a coach can help you quiet that voice so you can get out of your own way and build your confident voice.

In her book Becoming, Michelle Obama heard that voice on her first day at Whitney M. Young High School. That voice was telling her that maybe she wasn’t as smart as the other kids. “This was the doubt that sat in my mind through student orientation. Not enough. Not enough. It was doubt about where I came from and what I believed about myself until now. It was like a malignant cell that threatened to divide and divide again, unless I could find some way to stop it.”

For decades, women have misunderstood an important law of the professional jungle. It’s not enough to keep one’s head down and plug away, checking items off a list. You can’t just be competent, you have to be confident to truly excel.

Linda Babcock, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of Women Don’t Ask, has found that men initiate salary negotiations four times more often than women do and that when women do negotiate, they ask for 30 percent less money than men do. Hewlett-Packard discovered several years ago when it was trying to figure out how to get more women into top management positions that women applied for promotion only when they believed they met 100% of the qualifications listed for the job. Men were happy to apply when they thought they could meet 50% of the job requirements. Women tend to let their self-doubt stop them.

At the end of the day, confidence is the belief in one’s ability to succeed. You gain confidence through hard work, through success, and even through failure. The natural result of low confidence is inaction. When women don’t act, when they hesitate because they aren’t sure, they hold themselves back.