MPW Insiders is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: What are three skill critical to success? is written by Beth Monaghan, CEO of InkHouse.
You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room to be successful. I certainly wasn’t one of those students destined for inevitable success – my SAT scores were average and I wasn’t at the top of my class. What I didn’t realize then was that technical ability and intelligence aren’t synonymous.
When I started working I had high hopes, but not high expectations. And what I began to realize was that successful women behaved in ways that felt comfortable – and attainable to me – and they had nothing to do with my SAT scores. I began studying how they conducted themselves and started trying those strategies out myself. In other words, I was learning how to fake it, which is the first step to becoming successful. This journey to my authentic self led me to focus on three traits: confidence, empathy and authenticity.
Confidence: A venture capitalist I know once jokingly said that it’s more important to be convincing than it is to be right. He meant that confidence breeds competence – we gravitate naturally toward certainty. The good news is that confidence can be learned. For example, I had to learn how to stop stating my ideas like questions by keeping my voice from going up at the end of my statements, how to stop apologizing for things that weren’t my fault (like when a client forgot to attach a document to an email), and how to put my shoulders back and offer a firm handshake when I entered a room. After I mimicked these habits for long enough, they settled right into my DNA until one day I realized I wasn’t faking them anymore. What’s more, the more confident I became, the less I worried about what other people might think.
Empathy: As a female CEO, I am a strong believer that the future of the workplace depends on the skills that women naturally possess, such as empathy and emotional intelligence. Why is it so important for us to imagine the lives of others? Well, our careers would be short-lived if we didn’t. While sympathy is about feeling sorry for someone, empathy is about understanding. In any business negotiation, employee/manager discussion or team meeting, you’re destined to lose if you can’t imagine the other person’s point of view. We cannot move someone to where we are unless we first meet them where they are. When we don’t, the best intentions can have the worst impacts. As author Michael Cunningham wrote in his novel, By Nightfall, “You are guilty not of the epic transgressions but the tiny crimes. You have failed in the most base and human of ways — you have not imagined the lives of others.”
Authenticity: Some of the best advice a boss has ever given me was to use my own words. We were preparing for a pitch to a prospective client and she was telling me what she wanted me to say on my slides, but then she told me to say it in my own way. She was encouraging me to be myself. This seems so basic, yet we spend an inordinate amount of time trying to morph ourselves into carbon copies of our favorite bosses and mentors. That never works. Relationships, in business and in life, are based on authentic connections. These require us to know and trust our own voices. This is where confidence comes in again – a comfort level with who you are makes it possible to use your own unique assets to fuel success.