At the start of the Confidence Catalyst coaching programme for women leaders, we discussed their goals for their leadership progress during our 8 weeks together. Owning the confidence to take on meatier challenges, particularly in settings where they are surrounded by male colleagues, is a goal shared by many of the professional women in this virtual programme.
In talking with Kara, Global Head of Marketing within an Engineering firm, she relayed how often she and her direct reports were routinely diminished by certain male technical team members. She needed to work with these colleagues in order to better market their employer’s software.
Keeping Your Head Above Water
When I asked why challenging poor behaviour was so important to her, she said: ‘It’s just what leaders must do.’ This is the impact many women leaders with whom I work want to have on others. It also shows real leadership potential. Indeed, after all, she and these men are on the same side – they all want their products to sell.
She relayed how she’d improved on these skills, utilising them with regularity, because of frequent combative meetings. Kara was starting to challenge her colleague’s comments routinely in meetings; often borne out of their untrue assumptions about the value of her marketing team’s capabilities. This challenge is vital for anyone seeking to demonstrate leadership potential.
Realising she was making progress was vital. Kara was exhausted by the ‘gaslighting’ she and her team members were being subjected to. As I do in many of my executive coaching sessions, I asked her what metaphor might make sense of where she was in the process.
She said: ‘It’s like I’m at a swimming pool and there are two challenges. It’s not simply climbing up to the diving board – an equivalent of taking on a difficult conversation. It’s the ‘jumping off’; but also the ‘not drowning’ and ultimately keeping my head above water in the meeting itself!’
Credit Where Credit is Due (to Yourself)
For Kara, this looked like being able to defend her key points in the moment, when she knew she’d likely be shouted down. Her first goal was not having her words fail her when she was challenged. This was recognisable for many of the women on this coaching programme.
As Kara reflected on where she was in this ‘swimming pool,’ she began to give herself credit for even climbing the diving board and her willingness to have the ‘difficult conversations.’ Kara started to realise that climbing the diving board was a challenge most people in their careers shy away from. Most prefer to spend their life paddling around in the shallow end, just watching those brave enough to climb.
This realisation gave her the confidence to try new techniques we then discussed. One she particularly liked was using more open questions so they couldn’t shoot down her ideas without contributing their own. Kara described her next meeting as having more of a ‘co-creation vibe’. She and her deputy even had new ideas for making inroads on trickier topics with them in the future.
Slow Progress is Better Than No Progress
For the women leaders on this coaching programme, this type of realisation is vital. This is particularly true when they focus on this as ‘slow progress’ against their impatience for change. These realisations are what keep them going – something from which we, and certainly the companies for which they work, all benefit.
What could recognising even this type of ‘slow progress’ allow for you?
Keep an eye out for future Confidence Catalyst programme dates!