Hillary Clinton And I Share This Concern

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.