As women, vocally acknowledging our skills and generally blowing our own trumpets is toe-curlingly difficult which perhaps reflects the rise in EXECUTIVE COACHING to help unleash our shy, retiring egos says Penny McCormick …
Beyonce developed the character Sasha Fierce when she needed to be pushy and loud, “Some call it arrogant/I call it confident,” she sang in her song Ego. It’s one of many anthems women love singing. I’m every woman, it’s all in me. Sisters are doing it for themselves. I am champion hear me roar. When the music stops though we’re not so good at selling our own greatness. That is, compared to male counterparts and an increasingly self-aware millennial generation.
It is not only generational but also cultural – Irish women have a tendency to dumb down their achievements, countering every compliment with a “Oh thanks, it was nothing,” or speak of accomplishments as team successes. Often this conditioning starts from a young age. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put it in her book We Should All Be Feminists, “We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller.” At school being “nice”, neat and hardworking earns praise, not always reflected in workplace promotion.
Speaking up is a skill set that needs to be learned and applauded. It’s just one of the facets of Pamela Fay’s work as an executive coach. “Every generation looks over their shoulder and admires the confidence of their juniors. I’m 44 and it would be simplistic to say it’s just millennials who aren’t backward in coming forward. For me, how we present ourselves to the world is about our persona versus our shadow. In our 20s our persona is quite powerful because there are shadows yet to be experienced.” As an example Fay often cites her younger days spent playing tennis competitively, when she experienced both victory and disappointment. “I learned how to lose; nowadays we are teaching people how to lose and take responsibility when things go wrong.” Serena Williams might take note of this advice. “If I am generalising I would say younger clients want to get places faster; everything is done at speed whether it’s going to festivals or work. Key drivers at work are a flat corporate structure, a work/life balance and social consciousness.”
Fay’s own career trajectory is not something which happened overnight. After an initial business degree, she worked at Bord Bia and then Diageo, completing a Masters in International Marketing. In 2003 she was offered voluntary redundancy, started a consulting business and in 2008 started on her coaching career gaining a Diploma at UCD Smurfit, where she now teaches, and a further Masters in Coaching at Ashridge Business School, with an advanced diploma in Organistional Supervision. Fay now supervises coaches working within organisations and believes a coaching culture will often help with employee retention. “I often refer to a theory by Tim Gallwey called The Inner Game. He says that good performance is equal to your potential minus your interference. As we get older we create our own interference. For younger professionals there is less interference as they are more outward facing and on an upward trajectory.” It’s this interference which leads professionals and organisations to Fay. “Often people come to coaching when their organisation has been bought, sold or merged and the values of the new organisation have changed. The initial topics will be work-centric but work affects all aspects of life. If you’re not happy in your work the unhappiness will pop up elsewhere in life.” She acknowledges that while ageism does exist in the workplace it doesn’t exist in coaching. Fortunately she is in a career where the older you are, the better you are.
How to big yourself up
Know the difference between self esteem and self confidence. The former builds over time, the latter is an inside job. Do an inventory of your achievements. Give yourself a sense of accomplishment and capability. Recognise if you are working in an environment (of fear) which erodes self confidence.
Technology is often a source of vulnerability. Limit usage of social media or improve your digital skills.
Build a team of cheerleaders to gain perspective on a situation. Treasure those who will give you an honest answer and not what you might like to hear. Self care is important and helps build resilience.
Learn shamebusting skills. Redundancy is like a death in the family and often employees go through the same stages of grief. However, there is no shame in losing your job or having a job you don’t like. It’s important to work on your shamebusting skills – by having compassion for yourself and humour, which dissipates the shame.
Forget the am I good enough question. Good enough for what? Rephrase and repeat “I am good enough for me.” Ask yourself simple questions. Do I have the skill set, knowledge and experience? If so, what’s holding you back. Put yourself forward.
Praise people. Give credit where credit is due and never take anyone else’s limelight. Own others’ success as much as your own – be the bigger person as it shows security and authority in your role.
Pamela runs an annual coaching programme for female leaders, more details at firstname.lastname@example.org She also recommends the following courses:
For coaches, there are very good short courses at www.creativeexpansion.co.uk. For leaders, self-compassion and other personal development workshops at www.oscailt.com. For those that want to train as a coach: www.smurfitschool.ie.
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