MPW Insider is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How can more women leaders instill confidence in the workplace? is written by Teresa Briggs, vice chair and West region managing partner at Deloitte.
Confidence and leadership aren’t necessarily inherent traits. For many people, they are qualities that are learned and developed over time. Typically someone close — whether it’s a parent, teacher, coach, or role model — helps cultivate these incredibly personal yet extremely useful characteristics.
In the workforce, confidence is one of the most important skills a leader can possess. Confident leaders can make tough decisions, build teams, and entrust those teams to help their business stay one step ahead of competitors. I’m often asked when it comes to confidence and leadership, does one come before the other? Are they developed in tandem? Who is responsible for developing and honing these skills? Truthfully, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to any of these questions. In fact, all of the above strategies and stakeholders can help enable confident leadership. But personally, I’ve found that having active role models throughout my career played a crucial role in building confidence and developing leadership skills necessary in the workplace.
Many people advocate mentorship programs to cultivate confident leaders. However, I’m a big proponent of sponsorship over mentorship. Why? Sponsors actively pursue opportunities on behalf of an individual. They are professional champions and they take a role that is less passive than traditional mentorship. Sponsors help position you to shine. They go to bat for you, and in this way, their success is intertwined with yours. I have seen firsthand how clearly defined and consistent sponsorship has proven to catapult more and more women into the senior ranks. I believe it plays an important role in addressing the systemic problem of a general lack of female leaders in corporate America.
I’ve been with Deloitte for 33 years, and while Deloitte is currently a leader in the professional services community in paving the way for women in leadership positions, there were far fewer options when I was coming up the ranks. Fortunately, early in my career at Deloitte I had a sponsor who was incredibly supportive in building my professional confidence, by opening doors to clients and business networks and helping me gain exposure on high profile initiatives. It was my sponsor that actively lobbied for me when there was a senior opening in Deloitte’s Silicon Valley office. Knowing I had a champion always advocating on my behalf gave me the confidence to take calculated risks and pursue new opportunities.
My sponsor was a man, and I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that the responsibility for cultivating confident female leaders falls on both men and women. Men should take on this challenge in order to create strong, female leaders. These women will in turn sponsor more women, creating a cycle of sustained growth and promotion. Opening doors and advocating on individuals’ behalf supports future female leaders in believing their opinions matter, making smart decisions, and maximizing personal and professional growth. Confident leadership throughout the workplace is powerful, because it’s a force multiplier. If done correctly, men and women actively championing women throughout their careers can contribute to a recalibration of the dynamics of the workplace.