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 Lori Bailey, global head of special lines at Zurich Insurance.
Nearly everyone has a defining moment or event in their career that impacts them in a meaningful way. For me, this came early in my career when I approached my manager to discuss making a move to a different area of insurance. After mustering up enough courage to talk to him about it, he said something that I will remember for the rest of my life: “you have the technical skills; you just need more confidence.”
“You just need more confidence.” To this day, those words still echo in my memory. I always thought of myself as a very confident person, but something was clearly holding me back. From that moment on, I took every opportunity to boost my confidence. From public speaking courses, to stretch assignments and women leadership seminars, all in an effort to reclaim my self-confidence which, at the time, was shattered. It was uncomfortable, and downright frightening at times, but each time I found myself with incrementally more confidence than before, realizing that what doesn’t kill you without a doubt makes you stronger. And with that confidence comes the ability to influence which ultimately, is a key measurement of success for any leader.
See also: The One Quality Too Many Women Lack
As women leaders, we have a responsibility to pay it forward and share our experiences with the next generation. There are many ways this can be done, ranging from sharing of experiences on an informal basis to a formal mentorship or sponsorship. All of these are extremely important, and serve an important role in increasing confidence for women at all levels. But it goes beyond that. For me, the best way I have found to do this is to be an active role model for women in business, and model behaviors which demonstrate that confidence is delicate balance of assertiveness and humility; and of conviction and caring. For women, this is probably the biggest challenge of all, as too much confidence can be seen as arrogance, yet not enough can be viewed as meek and ineffective. Yet modeling such behaviors can be extremely effective in terms of building confidence in the workplace and inspiring a future generation of women leaders. Those personal challenges and triumphs are the ones which define us and make us unique – and perhaps may be the best booster of confidence that we may have.
There will always be times when our confidence takes a hit – just as it did for me early in my career. It would have been very easy for me to give up on my career move and continue in my existing role. But looking back now it was one the greatest pieces of feedback I have ever received – as hard as it was to hear, were it not for those very words, I never would have discovered the confidence that was always there to begin with and, more importantly, model that for others. I have long believed that confidence is not something that can be taught but rather comes from within – sometimes you just need a push in the right direction to see what is there all along.