I had coffee with a friend the other day and we were talking about his job. He was about to go on a leadership retreat and his team had contributed 360° input to this. I asked him what he thought they’d say about him. His response was that they’d say that ‘I am a visionary leader who always produces work of an excellent standard, that I have incredible energy and great communication skills. And that I am basically amazing at my job.’
If I’m honest I expected him to laugh after he made this statement and say ‘only joking!’ But he didn’t, he was totally serious. He, genuinely, thought his team would say all that about him.
Now this guy is a visionary leader, he is a great communicator and he is amazing at his job. I respect him immensely. What struck me about this conversation was the fact I don’t know one woman leader who if I asked her what her colleagues thought of her would say what he said. And I know lots of women leaders.
Time and again I’m in conversation with women leaders who struggle they are called to lead, that the work they’re doing is significant and that they are actually good at it. They’d never talk about themselves like my friend did.
In fact, many of them go to the other extreme and talk about themselves and what they are doing in negative terms. Some actively seek to downplay what they’re doing as ‘just little old me doing my best.’ I know this to be true because I’ve done it myself.
So why do so many of us doubt ourselves so much and struggle to embrace who and what we’re called to be?
Rev Dr Kate Coleman explores this question in her fantastic book ‘7 Deadly Sins of Women in Leadership’. Kate identifies that many women fall into behaviour she calls ‘Limiting Self Perception’. Essentially we – sometimes – struggle to see ourselves as leaders and consequently undermine our own skills and influence. Some psychologists call this ‘imposter syndrome’. That despite evidence of our accomplishments we feel like frauds and put our achievements down to luck or the misjudgment of others. Ever felt like that yourself?
Just the other day a male leader asked me why one of his female team, who is extraordinarily gifted, lacks confidence. He was asking about someone who is nationally recognised in her role and has the respect of her peers and wider Christian community. I was glad that he cared enough about her to ask.
What I wanted to be able to say is I’ve got a machine that can fix that. Bring her over all I need is 5 minutes and she can go on my ‘confidence machine’ and she’ll be all fixed: she’ll be more confident, more secure in her ability, more aware of her achievements, more able to embrace what she’s called to be and do. How I wish I had a magical machine like that but sadly I don’t.
If you’re one of those women who doubt your own abilities, achievements and right to be in the role you’re in, unfortunately you’re in good company. And I’d be tricking you if I said there was an easy two-step programme to become more confident. What I do know is that our confidence is often linked to our understanding of our identity in Christ.
I’m glad that when I became a Christian friends explained that being a follower of Jesus was about becoming a surrendered servant. They told me that all I was, all I had and all I was going to be were God’s and not mine. All I needed was to stay open-hearted and willing to be obedient. I’ve never been scared to admit that without Jesus I’m nothing.
For me knowing who I am has enabled me to approach life more confidently. My friend Danielle Strickland often says ‘Jesus isn’t a crutch, for me he’s the whole stretcher.’ We all need to connect with the value God places on us, realising that we’re precious and daring to delight in what God is doing in us and through us.
I’m aware of my own brokenness but I know that I’m on a journey to wholeness. So I don’t let my past experiences hold me back.
Recognising how God sees us can revolutionise how we think and speak about ourselves. It can stop us from talking ourselves down and also save us from talking ourselves up. When I’m part of something that goes well or succeeds, I take some encouragement for myself and my team, and then give the rest of the credit, where it belongs, back to God.
There is no trick to being confident but seeing ourselves as God sees us is a good place to start.
This article was first published in Liberti Magazine.