Every human, at some point, feels held back by a common trait – a lack of confidence. What we do when we have a lack of confidence is the difference between those who stall and those who dismantle the barriers that our lack of confidence seems to erect in our way. When we are boundless and full of confidence, we don’t see barriers. We see opportunities and exciting challenges. Then our confidence drops and suddenly the road ahead is full of insurmountable obstacles.
There are two components to pushing through those barriers that are not often talked about: imagination and fearlessness. These may seem strange, when we are have often been taught that we have to ‘fix’ or ‘find’ our confidence then the road ahead will suddenly become clear.
“Confidence is one of those irritating things that shows up after we need it. ‘Developing’ confidence focuses our brain on checking the boxes and staying where we are. Instead, we need to develop fearlessness, to take the action that will lead to confidence.”
What does imagination have to do with addressing a lack of confidence?
Imagination helps us envisage what is possible. When we start thinking that things might just be possible, it can fuel our excitement, and that all helps us develop fearlessness to take action. Our imagination can be applied to small barriers, big barriers, and everything in between:
- Imagine putting speaking up in a meeting and where your ideas might take your team if you finally share them.
- Imagine what you could achieve if you had a team working for you. Imagine how you could ask for that team.
- Imagine a team that worked autonomously instead of being micro-managed and the possibilities this would open up. (Note: if you are struggling with team performance check out this post on Boosting your team’s motivation).
- Imagine what you will do in your next job, instead of focusing on the gap between what you do now and what you will do there. Focus on the impact you will have once you are there.
In each instance, if we can channel our energy into focusing on what is possible, rather than the gap between where we are now and what is possible, we can build our fearlessness. It is the gap that sucks our confidence. So fuel your imagination first.
Why fearlessness works
If you are not confident that you can take on a new set of responsibilities, lead a new team, solve a new problem, take on a new job, as for that pay rise, you have two options.
- Option one: Work on building your confidence. Analyse the difference between where you want to be, and where you are now. Understand the ‘gap’ and then work on checking the boxes. You’ll get training, experience. And along the way, you’ll get some confidence.
- Option two: Channel your fearlessness into taking action right now.
I’ve seen time and time again clients holding themselves back until they’ve checked all the boxes. I’ve also been there. I thought I needed experience in every single aspect of middle management, then I’d get promoted. In the end, though, I ended doing the job, without the job title or pay-packet, and did it so well I jumped to C-Suite. The experience didn’t actually matter. And it didn’t make me more confident. In the end, I became sufficiently inspired by what was possible that I described a vision for a company who created a C-Suite position for me. And I took a leap. I was fearless.
And this can be you too.
We often hold ourselves back until we have all those necessary checks and experiences. But that doesn’t make you confident. Doing the work makes you confident.
The difference between staying stuck and getting ahead in your career: realising you will never feel confident enough, and instead you need to lean into your fearlessness and put your lack of confidence aside.
(Note that there are things we can do to tackle impostor syndrome which is one extremely debilitating example of a lack-of-confidence – if you want to learn more about diagnosing impostor syndrome and the tactics you can use to work through it, check out these posts:
To step into the growth zone you need to step out of your comfort zone. And the growth zone is where you are excited to wake up every day.
If you have ever felt that you don’t know what you are doing, lacking purpose, and you just aren’t excited to do your work, you are probably not growing. But if you give in to your lack-of-confidence you will stay in that zone of comfortable, but uninspiring.
You are allowed
When we combine fearlessness and imagination, great things happen.
Have you ever felt that everyone is diligently waiting for you to show them how great you are? You’re working away, delivering on (or ahead of) time, on (or under) budget. Getting all the experience. Making great outcomes. Surely someone at some point is going to reach down and pull you up a level.
Sadly, the world doesn’t work this way. I wish it did – because we are told that this is what a meritocracy should be. But the reality is, no one is ready to lift you up as soon as you’ve checked off some sort of secret list they keep hidden in a safe. The reality is you have to lift yourself up. You CAN build your opportunities. And imagine this: you are allowed and ABLE to build your own opportunities. You may be lucky enough (and I hope you are) to have mentors and advocates who help to lift you up. But you still have to take that first step and who them what you want and that you can do that. You have to lean into the feeling that you are capable (even when you don’t feel that you are) and that you are allowed!
Five steps to build your imagination and lean into fearlessness
- Get Help
Build your team that will lift you up.
- Surround yourself with formal and informal mentors. These people should challenge your imagination and as you build a stronger relationship with you, they will become advocates and open doors for you.
- Develop a reputation for helping others (including those above you and your mentors) – always give back more than you take. This will help build a list of advocates who see you as someone who is there to help everyone else.
- Get a coach. A coach is a great way to challenge yourself.
Looking back at all the scariest steps (which coincidentally were also the most exciting and inspiring steps) I’ve taken in my career, I’ve had a coach and/or mentor telling me I should go for it. They were lending me belief so that my imagination could fire up (‘I can do this!’). I borrowed that belief, allowed it to fuel my imagination, made the leap, trusting I would learn when I got there. And every time I did.
- Fuel your imagination
To become fearless and to consistently thrive, you need to fuel the ideas that inspire you to consistently grow and learn. Staying in that growth space is an inspiring place to be in its own right. But you can’t expect to come up with ideas all-by-yourself all-the-time. But here is the thing that is true of all great leaders: they surround themselves with opportunities by asking two important questions constantly:
- (A) What is the payoff/value of where I’m going right now? What is the ultimate goal? Can I change it and make it better?
- (B) What is the biggest and most exciting outcome I could create?
The key with these is to ask yourself regularly about your job, your business, your team, your personal life, and to not be frightened of something so big and scary it seems impossible. Instead, lean into it and allow the idea to further fuel your imagination.
- Get ideas from everywhere
Surround yourself with people that have ideas. So many ideas are wasted because the person who had them wasn’t taken seriously, or didn’t have the vision for taking it forward. You don’t have to have all the ideas yourself, because you can help others fulfil theirs. Be the enabler. Be the person who helped a team take a great idea forward. Ask your team difficult questions and really listen to the answers they give you instead of saying ‘oh we already tried that’. Challenge your thinking.
Always watch out for ‘we tried that already’ – that is an indicator of a problem that is not going away.
- Recognise ideas from everyone
Too many good ideas are dismissed because they came from the ‘wrong’ person. As leading women in tech, many of us have experienced this first hand, when our gender seems to make our suggestions invisible. But don’t be the person who perpetuates it. I’ve seen great ideas from cleaners to CEOs. Listen, and be ready to accept and nurture ideas, irrespective of whom they came from.
Really successful people appreciate ideas from everywhere because diversity is where greatness happens. And consistently successful people share the credit and praise. No one person is responsible for an outcome – rarely does the ideas person do all of the implementations. And BOTH are needed. So share the credit. You want those ideas to keep coming. Become the person who is known to lift others up and you will have great ideas landing in your inbox faster than you can use them.
- Remember: you have permission
If you think you aren’t allowed to change your job description or your day to day tasks, I’m here to tell you that you are allowed. Thinking we ‘aren’t allowed’ is an example of a lack of imagination feeding our lack-of-confidence. And it is a trap that holds far too many people back. Believing that you have not just the ability but also the need to change is what sets apart those who stay at Director-level and those who get to the C-Suite. By the time someone tells you that your job should be changing, it is too late. No one will give you permission on time. If you have a big idea, don’t assume it won’t be supported, or that you don’t have permission to even try. Use your credibility to put yourself in a position to sell your ideas to the C-Suite.
Do the job that needs to be done, not what is on your job description.
Once you get to a certain point in your career no one will guide you, because there is no ‘right way’ to progress. There isn’t a clearly laid-out path you should take. Instead, it is about stepping out and doing it in your unique way. No one is going to step aside and make room for you. No one will be directing you in exactly what needs to be done, following a fool-proof recipe into senior leadership.
To stand out as a leader you need to lean into fearlessness, imagine what is possible, set the course and lead.
Drop me a comment below, or hop on over to the Leading Women in Tech Facebook Group or LinkedIn Group, and let me know, what one thing are you currently scared of, and what do you need to become fearless.