By: Sydney Finkelstein, Associate Dean of Executive Education Posted: Jul 8th, 2014

While self-confidence is a prerequisite for senior management positions, too much can ruin a leader’s credibility, judgment, and career. Not enough can be just as damaging, and women, especially, may face challenges to building and demonstrating sufficient self-confidence from a variety of factors, including genetics, schooling, upbringing, and society. How can women—and men, too—strike the right balance between self-confidence and self-awareness to reach the C-Suite and succeed as a leader? Here are three tips anyone can—and should--follow.

Make the decision to be self-confident.

It may surprise you, but the truth is self-confidence is a choice people make. For many reasons, not all of us choose to be as self-confident as we should be. Sometimes all of us, but especially women, undermine our own success and leadership by self-sabotaging. If something goes wrong at work, or at school, is it because you screwed up, or is it because the game changed to a higher level? If all you ever do is internalize failure — “it’s my fault” —you’re much less likely to stick with a challenging assignment, or perhaps even more likely not to campaign for the next one. And yes, women tend to internalize failure more than men, according to research cited by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code.

Say Yes!

If confidence is a choice we all can make, does that mean we always should? Kay and Shipman make the point that men tend to overestimate their ability, while women tend to underestimate theirs. As a result, men have a greater propensity to say yes to opportunities, regardless of whether they are truly qualified, while women are more likely to hesitate as they think through whether they’re really ready for this next step. And once in the new job, men naturally believe they deserve to be there while women may feel as if they are imposters. So next time you’re offered a project that seems a bit of a reach, why not “say yes!” and stretch yourself? You’ll be broadening your abilities, and you might even have fun.

Just Ask.

If you haven’t gone to your boss to ask for that raise, or promotion, why is that? Do you just want to keep your head down, get the job done, and not make waves? While that approach may have helped you succeed in school, the working world is far more complicated. As it turns out, one of the reasons men earn more than women is because they ask for more. Whether starting a new job or looking for a promotion or raise, why not ask for that extra little bit? The truth is: You deserve it!

For more on this topic, read the full BBC Capital Column from June 26, 2014.  Or check out past writings on women executives and leadership


Sydney Finkelstein teaches in several of Tuck's executive programs, including:

Tuck Executive Program
Leadership & Strategic Impact
select Custom Programs

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