MPW Insiders is an online community where the biggest names in business and beyond answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: How can women build confidence in a male-dominated workplace? is written by Cheri Lytle, head of advisor strategy and development at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
After 16-plus years of working, here’s what I’ve learned: there isn’t one magic solution to attaining confidence in any circumstance or workplace setting. In many situations, we may actually stand in our own way by giving in to potential biases or perceptions that move us in the opposite direction.
Yet, to grow and succeed at work, we’re all told that confidence — in our own ability, potential and voice — is key. But how do you find and build it?
Building confidence requires being your own advocate and focusing on individual steps you can take to grow professionally. It also takes practice, having a diverse support system around you and knowing the value of your own voice.
Achieving confidence while working in the financial services field required looking beyond my gender and background, and focusing on what would make me a stronger and better team member and leader. So here are a few lessons I have learned over the years to build your confidence in the toughest of situations.
Building confidence is what you practice — and it starts with small steps. If we practice confidence in small ways — speaking louder, sustaining eye contact, having a firm posture — we often feel much more confident in the ideas we’re relaying.
It’s also extremely helpful to find someone to regularly test these skills out with — whether a mentor, friend, or outside specialist — so you can get a window into how you’re coming across to others, and where there’s room to improve (because there is always room to improve and grow).
One key lesson I learned is that it’s important to make yourself visible in gradual ways. If you are just starting out in the workforce or don’t have the confidence yet, start out small — sit up front in a meeting and find opportunities to ask questions. Graduate from there to making a presentation or leading a team discussion. From there, set your sights on high visibility opportunities like participating on a panel.
In that vein, reward yourself for the little victories that are easy to overlook, such as strong leadership on a project or confident delivery in a meeting. Taking a step-by-step approach to your career growth will give you a stronger and more sustainable path to success.
Seek guidance in unfamiliar places.
After working in human resources for years, I’ve come to learn the value of having a diverse workforce. With so many talented people out there who have different perspectives and career tracks — why seek out someone just like you? Find people completely different from you to mentor and seek mentorship from. You will learn and grow so much more from someone who doesn’t lead you in the same path they had. For me, working on a millennial counsel, which was developed to provide insight into the interests, preferences, and approach of the generation, has been eye-opening, and has given me new insights and skills I can use to improve in my own day-to-day.
Today, having a different opinion can be such a huge strength and advantage. Whether it’s your gender, background or skills, take advantage of the unique point of view and capabilities you have, and be confident that it will help you succeed.