Not long ago, I wrote an article titled “5 Things Women Leaders Should Stop Doing. Today.” on LinkedIn that was viewed by over 13,000 readers. Judging by the feedback, their favorite bit of advice was “Stop making yourself small so others can feel big.”
Response to the article confirmed what I intuitively know. Many women leaders share the challenge of saying yes to the right things, and no to others – namely self-defeating mindsets and behaviors. Like countless women, I’ve been the victim of my own brand of doubt. In truth, it wasn’t until I felt suffocated by self-imposed (but “other”-inspired) limitations that I even realized what I was doing! While it seems more like a nuisance than a career staller, acting small has significant effects on our engagement, our emotional well-being, and our effectiveness.
Here are 5 ways we act small when we don’t mean to, and a few ways to re-think…so we can react to others more powerfully.
1. We don’t speak up in meetings.
It can be hard to voice an opinion when you’re one of few women at the table. Sometimes, we keep our thoughts to ourselves, fearing others may not see what we see. But what if your perspective is exactly what’s needed at the time? What if, without your point of view, something important is forgotten, or misunderstood? Your voice matters. Being quiet is the same as being absent. If you’re going to be in the room, make it count.
2. We apologize for everything.
As women leaders, we must learn to save our “sorry” for when it’s needed. It’s right to apologize when you’ve been rude, when you’ve caused real or perceived damage to something, or if you hurt someone. Don’t apologize for being who you are, or where you are, or for having an opinion. Disagreement is not an assault on another person’s intelligence. In fact, tension can be healthy. It promotes critical thinking and strengthens ideas. So strengthen those ideas already. Without apology.
3. We downplay our accomplishments.
If I had a nickel for every time a woman leader has told me she doesn’t like to “toot her own horn,” I wouldn’t exactly be wealthy, but I’d have more shoes. We need to find an authentic place between arrogance and invisibility. There is such a place, and it would benefit us to get more comfortable there. You can’t rely solely on others to represent you, your work, or your wins. And if you’re downplaying your contribution because it makes some people mad, remember – if they don’t want to celebrate you, they won’t, no matter what you do. Focus on those who are happy to see you thrive, and return the good energy. Trust me – the remaining voices will quiet as you shift your attention away from them.
4. We dismiss praise from others.
I always pay attention when women are complimented in the workplace, because their response says a lot about where they are on the confidence journey. Some respond to praise with a heartfelt thank you, and others immediately begin to reject it. “Oh, it wasn’t a big deal.” “It was really so-and-so who did that.” “You’re too kind.” Consider for a moment the nuance between “You’re so kind” and “You’re too kind.” The first shows appreciation for the feedback. The second suggests the appreciation is somehow unwarranted.
When someone compliments you, simply express your gratitude. Don’t dismiss it. When you do, you undermine your value.
5. We second-guess our decisions.
Decisions, decisions. No one gets it right all the time. If you want to avoid compromising your influence, there are three things you can’t do. 1. Refuse to make a decision at all. (FEAR: What if I’m wrong? FLIP: What if I’m right?) 2. Beat yourself up for having made the “wrong” decision. (FEAR: I failed. FLIP: What can I and others learn from this?) 3. Be inflexible with your decision when new information comes along. (FEAR: If I change my mind, they’ll think I’m wishy-washy. FLIP: New information means new choices.) Don’t let the burden of perfection keep you from moving forward, even if that means moving in a new direction. You won’t always be right, but you won’t always be wrong either. Stand tall and make a call!
Acting small serves no one, especially you. Not only will you struggle to rise to your full potential, but you’ll lessen your impact as a powerful advocate for others. Commit to a grand vision for your career, and believe you can live up to it. You know what they say; If you can see it, you can be it!
Tara Jaye Frank is Corporate Culture Advisor for Hallmark Cards, Inc. and the author of Say Yes: A Woman’s Guide to Advancing Her Professional Purpose, written to help women from all cultural backgrounds chart a career course they can believe in and achieve. Follow her on Twitter @tarajfrank, Instagram @tarajayefrank, Facebook at Facebook/tarajayefrank, or visit her at tarajayefrank.com.