Make 2016 the Year You Take Your Seat at the Table


I know, I know, everyone has read and talked about Lean In for the past year or two.  However, as we begin to look toward the new year and making those resolutions – to be more confident, become a better leader, share who we are and what we stand for – I thought a brief recap of some of the personal challenges women sometimes face as they climb the leadership ladder might be helpful.  As we contemplate our goals for 2016, consider these suggestions for recognizing and navigating the stumbling blocks we sometimes put in our own way.

In the book, Facebook COO Cheryl Sandberg takes a close look at internal and external perceptions that continue to hamper the ability of some women to achieve greater degrees of leadership success.  While she focuses the discussion primarily on women the situations, feelings and stumbling blocks she describes may, in fact, apply to anyone who is interested in pursuing a greater leadership role in their organization.

She coins what she calls” the leadership and ambition gap.”  Are girls and women just less ambitious? Or are we more enlightened, with different and more meaningful goals to create work-life balance between our careers, our families, and community involvement?  While she agrees that this desire, for work-life balance, can inform some of the choices women make, she identifies other areas that she believes may have a broader impact on the issue.

Two of the key challenges she identified for herself and that she believes affect many others are:the concern with sacrificing likeability for success: and what she calls “the imposter syndrome” in which women harbor a distorted sense of self-doubt about their skills and abilities.

These factors often lead to a subsequent reluctance to step up and take a seat at the table, both figuratively and literally.

Likeability vs. Success

When young girls lead they are often called bossy – it’s not a compliment. Not so for boys; they are seen as exhibiting leadership potential.  As a result of this feedback when girls are young, they often develop mental roadblocks, or fears, that prevent them from making some of the choices needed to be seen as a leader in their organization.  Fear of not being liked, of being judged, of being a failure.

Most people really want to be liked. Not just because if feels good; being liked is also a key factor in professional and personal success. So, the challenge is to balance the natural inclination of women to show concern for the common good, which leads to likeability and better results through teamwork; while realizing that if you want to make progress you can’t please everyone and may have to sacrifice being liked by everyone for the good of the organization.

Fake It Til You Feel It

One of the other mental roadblocks she discusses in the book is “the imposter syndrome”.  This is a distorted sense of self-doubt and lack of confidence that results in a self-fulfilling prophecy of failure.  She suggests that you try the “fake it ‘til you feel it” tactic, acting confident until you actually feel confident. She found that it really worked for her.  Research actually backs this theory.  There is a TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, in which she discusses body language and nonverbal ways to “fake it until you become it” and how using power posing and standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel it, has a positive impact on our chances of success. Others talk about acting the way you want to feel and that ultimately you will feel the way you are acting.

In the end, Ms. Sandberg acknowledges that the most important quality of any leader is the ability to keep growing and learning and that success is a combination of hard work, help from others, and being in the right place at the right time.  No one succeeds alone. “If you do not go after what you want, you’ll never have it, if you do not ask, the answer will always be no. If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place.”

So, make a resolution to step up, take your seat and act like you belong there, even if you don’t feel it, and eventually you and everyone else will not remember a time that you weren’t a successful leader.

Mary Vail-Grube is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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