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Karin’s Leadership Articles

Hillary Clinton And I Share This Concern

by | Mar 26, 2014 | By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning |

Hillary Clinton’s noticed a pattern in her decades of work developing men and women staffers. As she shared it from the stage at the conference I attended last week, I felt my eyes tear up. Her words articulated a concern I’ve had for years.

“Too many women in too many countries speak the same language — of silence.”
~ Hillary Clinton

When I ask intelligent, articulate, highly qualified women to step up and take on more responsibility or a substantially bigger role, I’m often met with questions.*

“Do you really think I’m ready?”

“Are you sure I’m qualified?”

“How am I going to balance it all”?

In all my years of working with young staffers, NOT ONCE did I hear something like that from a man. Sure men have fears too. They just are less likely to say them out loud. It’s not all women. There’s no one who hates gender stereotypes more than me (and Hillary). But we have enough stories to be concerned. I imagine you do to.

How To Help Strong Leaders Build Confidence

  1. Look past the obvious choice for special assignments – The most qualified candidate for that special project may not be the one banging down your door asking for more. Consider the strong less flashy performers quietly inspiring others to get it done.
  2. Share specifics of why you believe in her – People need help in connecting the dots of their experiences. Articulate why you know they can do what needs to be done.
  3. Debrief wins – Help the leader understand her role in successes as they are happening. It wasn’t just “luck” or the expertise of a “great team.” If her leadership made a difference, explain why.
  4. Encourage confident communication – Point out the words that weaken (“this is probably a bad idea…” “in my feeble mind…”) and encourage power words (“absolutely” “game on” “we’ve got this.”
  5. Teach the art of ignoring stupidity – Many female leaders tend to take scrutiny more personally than men. And sadly, appearances and other superficial characteristics tend to get more focus for women. As Eleanor Roosevelt said, women leaders need rhino skin. And as Hillary added, we still do, we now just have better skin care products to hide it. Help your leaders focus on what matters, and ignore criticism that doesn’t.

*Quote is paraphrased, apologies to Hillary Clinton if it’s not precise…sentiment is spot on.

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.


  1. Steve Borek

    I’ve heard men, me included, doubt their readiness for a role.

    I was asked to produce a play almost nine years ago. The board saw something in me I couldn’t see. I told them there was no way I could do it.

    A few weeks later, they asked a second time and I pushed back again. They nudged me back saying they knew I was producer material.

    Well, I produced that play and seven more after that. In fact, they said I was the best first time producer they ever saw.

    Sometimes you can’t see the picture while you’re in the frame.

    During that first production, I was unsure of my capabilities. Same thoughts on the second and less so for future productions.

    It took time for me to get my footing.

    What I have experienced are people saying they’re ready, both men and women, yet clearly not ready to take charge.

  2. Alli Polin

    I have something in common with both of you too! Particularly with respect to confident communication I find that women apologize more. “I’m sorry” for having a strong opinion, for respectfully disagreeing with you, for asking for what I need… There is nothing to be sorry for and the key is to ask and contribute without the apology.

    Fantastic, Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Alli, Oh yes, the apologizing part is a big one. Thanks for adding that.

  3. Eric Dingler

    Just recently I asked a young man to take a new position on staff as a supervisor.

    “Um, I have to think about it, I don’t want to let you down. Are you sure I’m ready?” was his exact reply to me.

    Now, I do believe this same young man would not have said that if the camp’s assistant director (a female) would have called him and offered him the role. Men….we’re cray-cray.

    Love number five on your list Karin. I’ve learned that when I need to give pushback on an idea or a task of one of the women working for me I’m much better off saying first; “I’d like permission to give that idea some pus back, may I?” Goes a long way. I think it’s helpful for all of us to remember that pushback on an idea or task isn’t pushing on the person as an individual…just the idea or outcome. I love the Ritz concept of being Ladies and Gentlemen in the workplace.

  4. Karin Hurt

    It’s so awesome to have you here expanding the conversation. I’m glad you and Steve are pointing out examples of how this is an issue for both men and women. Your approach on “pushing back on the idea” not the person. Is great advice.

  5. bill holston

    I lead an all female staff of 10, which is not uncommon in the non profit world. Last year I nominated the three lawyers on my staff for an award for women lawyers:
    Here’s what I said about them, and it’s true:
    “We are privileged here at HRI to have three women attorneys who are fierce advocates for women,” says Bill Holston, Executive Director of HRI. “Chris Mansour, Melissa Weaver and Martha Gonzalez are the consummate professionals. They are compassionate and fearless advocates for our clients. Whether it is a young woman escaping the bonds of domestic violence or a woman from Africa seeking refuge from female genital mutilation, our lawyers are passionate advocates for our clients’ fight to begin a new life in America.”

    • letsgrowleaders

      Bill, it sounds like you work with some real role models. Thanks so much for sharing their story.

  6. Matt McWilliams

    I’ve yet to meet a woman who I doubted because of her gender or other responsibilities.

    For every stay-at-home mom re-entering the workforce or mother of three getting promoted to CEO there is a man who is overly pressured by being the only “breadwinner” or a single dad of three trying to advance his career.

    Gender is irrelevant. We all feel the same pressures and have the same inadequacies.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Matt, You raise important points. We all struggle on our journeys. The pattern I’ve noticed along the gender divide is the tendency to extravert fears. Not everyone of course, it’s impossible to stereotype or group diverse humans in two clusters. It was interesting, I’m on a business trip now, and for 2 days, I have been the only woman in the room of a dozen people. It’s been a long time since I experienced that dynamic. It’s interesting that it still can exist.

  7. Pam McDonald

    As a woman developing leaders in a male-dominated field, I have dealt with many men who have shared their doubts about next steps. A common theme I found a few years ago was, “Those are big shoes to fill.” I told them we were not asking them to fill the predecessor’s shoes but to wear their own proudly and forge new paths.

    As with any relationship, the element of trust must exist before an individual feels comfortable enough to be vulnerable. Those who don’t know me well are more likely to tell me what I want to hear. Those with whom I have built trust are more willing to be honest and express their fears and self doubts.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Pam, I LOVE your response to the common “big shoes to fill” comment. I so agree, it’s a matter of building deep relationships where people feel free to share their truth and concerns.

  8. LaRae Quy

    This is such an important post, Karin. Well done!

    Women can be their own worst enemy by “asking for permission” or “remaining silent.”

    Thanks for these great words of encouragement.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Thanks, LaRae. So agree, as we develop leaders it’s important to help build the confidence to say what they mean #meanit

  9. Terri Klass

    Helping women become more assertive in the workplace needs to begin in childhood and within families. Little girls need to be empowered to stand up for what they believe and practice ways to share their ideas. I also think teachers are part of this puzzle as they sometimes connect and support boys more in high school.

    It will take a village to change the culture of women in the workplace- a Hilary kind of idea.

    Love your points, Karin!

    • letsgrowleaders

      Terri, YES! It does start early with boys and girls. I did feel some progress the other day as I want to speak to my son’s 2nd grade class about leadership. I had the children describe their “ideal candidate” for a child member of Obama’s cabinet. There were a series of choices and brainstorming, but it started with the kids picking a boy or girl character. I thought the boys would pick boys and the girls would pick girls. at that age, but it was quite a mix. Led to some great conversation.

  10. Sharon Gilmour-Glover

    This comment thread is very encouraging. It speaks to how far we’ve come that there are men participating in this conversation, sharing instances of men struggling too. It would appear we’re making real progress.

    I saw myself in your post Karin. I led a team that was predominantly men. I found myself needing to apologise for respectfully disagreeing or making a decision not all of the men agreed with. I felt the need to temper my tendency to be forthright and direct. I felt the need to minimise my experience and insight.

    Upon reflection, not one person on that team told me I needed to do those things. it was never even implied, except by 1 person. I felt that need. It was me censoring me. That, and I didn’t listen to your 5th tip.

    Karin, I have no idea how you consistently produce such thoughtful, worthwhile content here, not to mention your monthly leadership round up and do a full time job. I’m grateful you do. You are one of my long distance mentors. Thank you.

    • letsgrowleaders

      Sharon, I agree, I’m really encouraged by the comment thread as well. You nailed my original concern, when we chose to “censor ourselves.”

      Thank you so very much for you kind words. That means a lot.


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