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From Wallflower to Sunflower – A Self Confidence Journey

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When I think back now, I’m often shocked at the things I used to say to, and about, myself.  
As a classic “introvert”, I tend to get my energy from within.

 

I think things through, evaluate, and usually consider what I am about to say. Working in a fast paced corporate environment with a large team and a demanding workload didn’t give me much time to do any of those things so I mastered the art of doing them quickly!

In those years, my skills were creating, setting up, implementing, designing, testing, reworking, fixing – all typical back office skills in the area of finance and billing. I never looked for the limelight. 

“I’m a wallpaper person” I would tell myself , “just blending in to the background”. “Everyone can see my skills, I don’t need to shout about them”, and of course that classic imposter syndrome refrain “one day I’ll get found out” was always there in the background.

Often surrounded by people with more forceful personalities than mine, I gave them the information to put forward, convinced they would do it better than I, and continued to reside in the background.  It was too much effort to push myself through to the front and I was too self-conscious to do that anyway.

 

While I was busy congratulating myself for being a “humble wallpaper person” I was not serving the needs of my team.

 

While doing my Leadership Diploma I did an Emotional Intelligence 360. My boss, peers, colleagues, team and friends all input to the report, which was compared against how I viewed myself. 

The results were life-changing.

All of the input in both scores and words from those around me showed that they thought of me as an excellent leader, whose work was impactful and whose leadership was developmental of people and process. Fantastic I hear you say, well done you!  

But no, the kicker was that I didn’t view myself in that way at all. I scored myself much lower in all areas and was blown away by the comments my colleagues had contributed. Such things as “We need to see and hear more from you, your contribution is needed”, or “your balanced view needs to be heard” or “please represent us at a corporate level, we would like to have a say”.

While I was busy congratulating myself for being a “humble wallpaper person” I was not serving the needs of my team, nor was I personally contributing my considerable experience to the challenges facing the organisation. 

 

I perceived others to be more knowledgeable, more experienced – I’d probably say something stupid, show myself up…

 

While I may have been passing my contribution through others, my own style of presenting them was missing, and there was, most certainly, room for someone who was quiet, thoughtful and controlled. 

My self-confidence was very low. I was not used to speaking out, especially if I didn’t agree. I had a dislike of conflict and would rather keep the peace. 

It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do my job. No,  I was very confident in that, but more that I didn’t like to do it publicly. I perceived others to be more knowledgeable, more experienced – I’d probably say something stupid, show myself up….. and so on. 

Over the following years I specifically focused in on building my self-confidence and taking a more central and visible role in my organisation.   

 

Part of me thinks it is our roles as nurturers and carers that leads us to put others first and doubt our own importance.

 

The benefit was huge – I certainly was more fulfilled in my role and in my leadership, and the organisation found someone who drove difficult cross-functional, cross-regional projects to address global finance issues.

Self-confidence is an Emotional Intelligence skill, and yes it can be grown. Statistics show that women tend to score lower than men in this area, though I still haven’t figured out why. Part of me thinks it is our roles as nurturers and carers that leads us to put others first and doubt our own importance. 

Another part thinks it is that “don’t think too much of yourself” and “ who does she think she is” syndrome that those of us of a certain vintage were brought up with. 

 

Here’s some of the things I did to build up my self-confidence:

Prepare

I noticed that due to the fast pace environment I was working in that I often “winged it” at meetings. If something came up that I wasn’t familiar with, I said nothing. Conversely, if I had prepared for meetings I felt more competent to contribute to discussions and add value. 

If I had to have a difficult conversation with someone, I prepared in advance what I wanted to say, how I would say it and what result I was looking for. Those conversations became much easier and more productive.

 

What’s the worst that can happen? 

Understanding the risks involved helped me to decide if an action was worth taking or not. Rather than just shying away from doing something, I evaluated the benefits and the downside. 

In this way when something looked worth doing I had no excuse to back away and was more committed to following through.

 

Practice living with that feeling of discomfort and then push yourself into action

 

Tap in to experience

I had a lot of experience and could tackle most things, so what was I worried about? 

I also had a great bunch of people around me with tons of experience, so if I didn’t know, one of them most certainly would.

 

Be aware

I took time to really think about what was going on with me when I had a moment of low confidence. So, if I was reluctant to speak up, decide, or take action, I would question what was going on internally. Sometimes, it was lack of data, knowledge or information. Sometimes, I was confused. Sometimes, I was just browbeaten by someone. 

In those moments I would ask myself “what needs to happen for me to speak up?”. Depending on the answer, I would ask for more information, get clarity around the issue by discussing it with others, or sometimes I just had to grit my teeth, find my courage and do it!

 

Lack of confidence comes from: 

Lack of competence – This one is easily fixed. If you recognise that you don’t know enough about the subject connect in with others who can teach you, or do your homework and read up on the topic.

Your self worth – agree that you are good enough, that there’s room and time for improvement, but basically, you’re fine!  Use your courage as a skill, practice living with that feeling of discomfort and then push yourself into action. The more you do it, the more confident you feel and the more confident you become.

I have always loved to share whatever knowledge and experience I have, in the hope that it will save someone time, energy or angst.  Now, I speak regularly at functions, conferences, breakfast briefings, and for someone who was once a “wallflower” I am happy to say the “sunflower” has bloomed!

 

For more advice on building your Emotional Intelligence see these great articles from Barbara:

Recognising Your Triggers to Avoid An Emotional Response

Are You Fooling Yourself About Who You Really Are? The Keys To Self Awareness

4 Ways To Ruin Business (and Romantic) Relationships

 

About the Author

Barbara Nugent

Barbara Nugent has over 20 years experience in large organisations, leading teams and holding senior management positions. She is passionate about helping others uncover and grow their personal and professional potential.

If you would like to improve your Emotional Intelligence, have a team workshop, have Barbara speak at your organisations or would like to know about one-to-one coaching programmes, contact bnugent@transilientcoaching.ie or visit www.transilientcoaching.ie

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