This piece was originally produced for CYBG as part of their International Women’s Week focus.
In 2015, the England Women’s Football team, known as the Lionesses, came home with a bronze medal from the World Cup in Canada. A huge achievement for the team, surpassing all expectations. Marianne Spacey was (and still is) the Assistant Coach of the team, a successful woman in what has been very much a male-dominated world. She has given this advice: “Believe in yourself, have an aptitude to learn and go knocking on doors to keep putting yourself into positions where you can get better.”
But how good are we as women at doing this? These are some of the statements that we have heard from women we have worked with, across both business and sport.
“I know I can do a good job, I just wish I had more confidence in myself.”
“The men I work with just seem to have this belief that they can do things. And they are stronger at communicating this. I don’t have that and it’s frustrating as I feel like it’s holding me back.”
“I need to build up my confidence so that I can do a better job for my team – they need to have belief and confidence in me, so I need to have it in myself.”
As a training and consulting company, the main benefit we aim to bring for the client organisations we work with is to drive high performance. For many of the women we work with, this means helping them to build, and communicate, their confidence. Let’s unpick some of the key areas that go into this.
“Before you can be someone, you need to know who you are.”
I can’t stress how important this is. Whilst my first qualification was as a tennis coach, I then went on to work as a corporate lawyer for 13 years. The legal fraternity is not perhaps renowned for being the most self-aware set of people. However, doing a work-focused behavioural profile, which then prompted me to spend some proper time to understand my strengths and the way I operate at work, was a revelation. My areas of best contribution are working with and through people, and achieving results. I am not particularly motivated by rules and procedures, or the need to feel secure. Understanding this gave me a much better picture of ‘who I am’ at work, what my strengths are, and where I should be focusing my energies. Whilst still in law, this meant a focus on client relationships and then training. It then led me to set up Sport and Beyond, where our entire focus is on developing people into high performers.
This is why the first step of so much that we do at Sport and Beyond is a behavioural profile (we use the Thomas International suite of profiles as they are robust, accessible and extremely reliable). It drives the first of our three key outcomes for clients: UNDERSTAND.
So how does this then drive an increase in confidence, and what other follow on steps can help?
Leveraging your strengths
Once you understand your strengths, leveraging them and building on them will enable you to perform at a higher level, and so build your confidence. The belief in spending learning and development time on building on your strengths, rather than focusing too much on your weaknesses, is gaining greater currency within business. Of course it has been a central tenet within sport for a long time. At Sport and Beyond we particularly love this quote from newly appointed England cricket captain, Joe Root: talking about the 12 month period where his performance really moved up a gear, he said: “Peter [ex-England coach] definitely got the best out of me, along with the rest of the coaching team. When I came back from Australia I realised that a lot of the time I was trying to work on things I was not good at, putting all my energy into that rather than spending more time strengthening the stuff I am good at.”
Peter Drucker, renowned management consultant and author, applies this to business in the following way. He has said that we should waste as little effort as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy and work to improve from competence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence – and yet most people in most organisations concentrate on making incompetent performers into mediocre ones.
Don’t use this as an excuse to ignore your key ‘limiters’ of course. Yes, it’s important to concentrate on any areas of weakness that are holding us back. But don’t try and fix all of them, and try and shift the balance from too much focus on these to more focus on building up your areas of strength. This drives the second of our key outcomes for clients: FOCUS
What and Why
Often we lack confidence and are nervous about something but we are not sure why. It might be a presentation we have to give. Or it might be nerves before a big meeting. Sure it’s a big meeting, but have you analysed why you are actually nervous?
The What and Why process helps many of our clients. What is it that you are nervous about, and why. So yes, it might be nerves before the big meeting, but what in particular are you worried about? Is it that you might not present your points well? Or is it that they won’t listen? Or won’t agree with you? Or something else? Once you’ve drilled down, then we can work on dealing with the concern, and building confidence around it.
“Just because it’s common sense doesn’t mean that it’s common practice.”
Sometimes the simple things are worth repeating, over and over again. Whatever you are doing in life, the more prepared you are, the more confident you can feel going into it. This doesn’t mean that you have to have all the answers (which is impossible) but it does mean that you have planned and prepared for the task in hand.
“You draw from your experiences. You draw from your failures. And every day is a learning day.”
Those of you reading this with many years of working life under your belt can smile at this point. One of the great things about getting older is the experience that you have gained. However, there is a proviso to this. You have to use that experience wisely, and make sure that you continually learn from it. Don’t rest on your laurels. The quote above is from Victoria Pendleton, the Olympic gold-medal winning cyclist who gave herself a year to convert to being a jump jockey, speaking the week before her (successful) big race.
“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”
Having that growth mindset, a willingness to challenge yourself and accept that you might fail, is a whole topic in itself, but is key to building up confidence.
Try and view challenging tasks as an opportunity to learn and grow. Aim to succeed at the task, and in any event you will learn from it and grow stronger as a result. Think of the ever growing chasm between those who have this attitude, and those who don’t. Others don’t try new challenges, so they do not learn and they don’t grow. That makes them even more fearful of new challenges, because they lack the experience or success in taking on new challenges. Meanwhile, the others are growing stronger all the time. Even if they have a setback on a challenge, they still learn and grow.
Mia Hamm, one of the greatest female soccer players, has said: “All my life I’ve been playing up, meaning I’ve challenged myself with players older, bigger, more skilful, more experienced. In short, better than me….Each day I attempted to play up to their level….and I was improving faster than I ever dreamed possible. “
This mindset, and approach, feeds into our final outcome for clients: EXCEL.
Threats to confidence
So what can knock our confidence? What can challenge our ability to feel confident in who we are and what we do? It’s important to consider what these areas might be, so that you can deal with them and drive forward. For each and every person it differs but common themes include:
- levels of self-esteem;
- others around you;
- lack of experience;
- too high expectations;
- lack of a strategy; and
- focusing too much on what has gone wrong.
- Acknowledging what it is that’s holding back your confidence, gives you the power to then address it.
I will give the final word to Eleanor Roosevelt as this sums up something that we also see time and again with women – when under pressure, the goods are produced.
“A woman is like a tea bag: you never know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”