3 Ways Women Hold Themselves Back at Work

3 Ways Women
Hold Themselves Back at Work

Eighty percent of my coaching practice is comprised of women leaders and trailblazers. We face a unique set of challenges and expectations imposed upon us via social media, our families, our cultures, and our religions. We continue to break those molds, rewrite the rules, redefine ourselves, achieve great things, and change our worlds. But, there is one key place I still see women getting stuck. It’s on the internal limitations we impose upon ourselves. These are far more discreet. Thus, harder to identify. I want to introduce you to the top three ways I see women holding themselves back at work. Regardless if you’re an entrepreneur, CEO, or employee, understanding the ways you hold yourself back and getting rid of those roadblocks will not only catapult you to new heights in your career—it can inspire other women to follow.

1. Erase The Brilliance Margin.

I write a lot about The Brilliance Margin, which is a self-perceived measure of difference between your brilliance and capabilities to that of someone else. We often think there’s a huge margin between our own abilities, knowledge, and talents as compared to:

  • Our parents
  • Our bosses
  • Our colleagues
  • Our partners
  • Our friends
  • Celebrities
Our brilliance exists in the unique sets of skills, capabilities, vulnerabilities, and mistakes that are intrinsically ours.

At some point, we come to the realization that the people we look up to and the ones we compare ourselves with don’t have the answers. We do. Our brilliance exists in the unique sets of skills, capabilities, vulnerabilities, and mistakes that are intrinsically ours. We need to start owning our stories instead of constantly comparing our journeys of success and failure to someone else. When we do that, we learn that:

  •  Our parents are fallible humans who have been “faking it until they make it” through the unknowns for decades.
  •  Our bosses aren’t really that much smarter than us, and yet they hired us to complement their shortcomings.
  • Our partners want what’s best for us but may not really know what that is (because only we do).
  • Our friends don’t have it all figured out because if we really listen, they’re telling us so (and thank goodness, because who else would we commiserate with)?
  • Celebrities either inherit or stumble into their celebritydom by chance. If you don’t think there are hundreds or more Angelina Jolie’s and Denzel Washingtons out there waiting to be discovered, think again!

If you’ve created a Brilliance Margin (and chances are you have), many things can happen.

  • You don’t speak up because you think someone probably has a better idea than you do.
  • You don’t speak up because you are afraid the person will think you’re an idiot.
  • You don’t act on your vision or idea until you can run it by them.
  • You don’t create your own vision because you play the role of activating their vision or ideas.
  • You don’t advocate on your own behalf because you don’t deserve “it” yet (it = promotion, money, love, acknowledgment).

Notice that the result of a Brilliance Margin is inaction. Don’t speak. Don’t act. Don’t create. Don’t own your greatness.

Don’t believe that nonsense.

Be the master of your internal dialogue. How do you speak to yourself? What stories do you tell yourself about your own power or potential?

If you do want to harness and leverage your own power, there are just three rules to follow:

  1. Be the master of your internal dialogue. How do you speak to yourself? What stories do you tell yourself about your own power or potential?  
  2. Trust that by knowing and being yourself, you will “show up” well in the world (which encompasses how you talk, the actions you take, and how they make you feel).
  3. Know that not all people are your people, so it’s okay if not everyone is a member of your fan club. Remember that people who are not yet awakened to their own power will sometimes find yours threatening.

Lastly, examine your key relationships: parents, boss, partner, friends. Who do you look to for approval and permission? How would it feel to give yourself permission to speak up or take action? Where in your life have you already narrowed a Brilliance Margin? What strengths and lessons can you carry from that experience into another that needs attention?

If you’re ready to start narrowing a Brilliance Margin in your life, action is key, because action is the only remedy for fear.

2. Soothe the Imposter Syndrome.

The Imposter Syndrome is one of the most common disguises fear wears (and very common among high-achieving women). Introduced in 1978 by Pauline Clance and Suzanne Imes in a paper entitled, The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women, it’s a concept describing individuals who are marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a fraud.

The best way to soothe your Imposter Syndrome is to find a safe place to talk about it. You’ll be astounded how many women have this in common. Talking about it deflates its power over you. Replace your imposter thoughts with positive affirmations and start rewiring your brain, yes, own who you are in your journey, right now. You’re not an imposter. You’re growing, evolving, and becoming a better version of yourself. Remember that your opinion is the real one that matters.

3. Recruit your cheering section.

Who are your biggest supporters? Where are there gaps in your cheering section? Home? Career? Health? Spiritual life? Family?

Feeling supported by the right people is mandatory in business. If you only rely on your digital audience, you will feel sorely disappointed when you share news and don’t get a million likes. Creating an authentic cheering section sets the stage for you to be yourself.

Here are some of the reasons women don’t ask for support:

  • Fear of rejection/being told “no”
  • Perfectionism
  • We don’t want to be a burden
  • Fear of judgment

One of the greatest gifts from years of working inside of organizations are the beautiful friendships and professional relationships that resulted. When I started my own business, a former colleague and friend were kind enough to review all of my original sales presentations, program ideas, proposals, and pricing.

I then hired an executive coach to support me, who also held me accountable for the internal work of creating a business while I created the parts of the business the world could see.  Working through your fears and having a partner to remind you of your gifts, your “why,” and generally hold space for you to work through your internal and external challenges is nothing short of a game changer.

While so many people make promises to buy your services or share their contacts, here’s the truth: only a fraction of them will actually show up for you. Here’s another truth: the ones who do will support you in ways you cannot even imagine. Support is about quality, not volume.

Hire support where you need to. Otherwise, from your place of power, formally invite key people to your support team: colleagues, mentors, spouses, and partners. Be specific about the kind of support you need and ask if they are willing to sign up. It is heartwarming to watch the women I coach make these requests of the people in their lives because, let me tell you, they will say yes and sign up for you in droves! You’ll wish you had done it sooner.

Wherever you are in your professional life, stop waiting for permission to be great or do great things. There’s no right time. No perfect boss. No “dream” work scenario where you feel on top of your game five days per week.

Be honest with yourself, remove the barriers, and get to work.

Tegan Trovato

Bright Arrow Coaching founder, Tegan Trovato is an HR industry veteran and award winning coaching and talent expert. A seasoned leader, trainer and speaker, Tegan frequently presents to large groups and is available for keynote presentations on talent topics and professional development.

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