Everybody knows about the struggles of women on their way to the top of the corporate ladder. Statistics have shown that only a small percentage are able to break the “glass ceiling”, however the numbers are slowly but surely increasing. Most studies search for an explanation for this fact, trying to come up with ways of accelerating progress. So, we end up trying to work out a bunch of good ideas, organizational cultural roadmaps, incentives and legislation.
I was inspired by the New York Fearless Girl statue to look at the situation from an “attitude” perspective. Is it “fearlessness” that makes the difference between women that make it from the ones that don’t? Is having a “fearless girl” attitude the valuable trait coveted in the C Suite or the Boardroom?
It may well be. It came to me when I felt such a strong connection with the NY Fearless Girl. So, I want to share 5 pearls of wisdom on being a “fearless woman” Entrepreneur, Corporate CEO and Board Director, in the last 30+ years:
PEARL #1: YOU ARE FEARLESS BECAUSE OF FEAR
In “The Little Book of Confidence”, Susan Jeffers tells us that the only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it. Once you’ve done something that you’ve feared several times, the fear of that situation goes away. Then the fear begins again, giving you the opportunity to move ahead to the next situation you fear, stretching your capabilities and expanding your horizons, until it becomes easier and easier to “feel the fear and do it anyway”.
Feelings of self-doubt have been with me from the start, and they’re still there, fueling my fears, but also building my self-confidence. They guide me towards the next step I need to take myself out of my comfort zone.
“Let go of fear of fear, and turn it into your best ally”
PEARL #2: YOU ARE FEARLESS BECAUSE THE OUTCOME DOESN’T MATTER
I know it sounds counterintuitive. But only by detaching yourself from the outcome can you focus your energy on the task at hand and enter a state of flow, which is a state of peak performance. I’m not suggesting for you not to plan and define clear objectives to aim for, but once you do, let go of them and trust that if you are doing what you love, what you are passionate about, what you believe in, then “wherever you’re going, you’re already there”. Attaching your identity and self-worth to whether you achieve your goals or not makes you anxious and insecure about the future. The same goes for presentations, your contributions in meetings, your teamwork.
There were many occasions when I shied away from proposing something very relevant at a meeting, because I was worried about how it would make me look if it didn’t turn out well. Today, I just speak my mind.
“Not caring about the outcome (in the future) makes you fearless every day, today”
PEARL #3: YOU ARE FEARLESS BECAUSE YOU HAVE A GROWTH MINDSET
In her best-selling book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, Carol Dweck, tells us that individuals who believe their talents are not fixed, but rather that they can be developed, have a “growth mindset” and tend to achieve more. Believing that you can always improve is powerful when you are criticized, perform poorly, or make mistakes. It will help you deal with your feelings of insecurity and turn your energy towards good strategies like learning, practicing new skills, seeking feedback from others, and admitting mistakes.
There was a time when I labeled myself as incapable of going through and understanding detailed financial statements or market research studies. Even though I’m an engineer, I had convinced myself I wasn’t born with an analytical mind. By taking the reports head on, instead of procrastinating, I started to see that they weren’t that difficult as I thought. I taught myself to capture the big numbers and to ask a lot of questions to my financial colleagues in order to fill the gaps.
“With a growth mindset, you are fearless because you believe that there is nothing you can’t eventually tackle!”
PEARL #4. YOU ARE FEARLESS BECAUSE YOU HAVE A SAFETY NET
Seeing the “trapeze artists” perform their act in the circus I don’t remember being any less amazed at their flying pirouettes because I could see that they had this enormous safety net below. In the corporate world, having a safety net made of a strong network of family members, close friends and colleagues that are there to support you when you “fall”, works wonders for your performance. With the huge advantage that nobody can see it below you. But don’t take for granted the safety net and assume it will be there for you, if you do not cultivate and nurture those relationships because you are too busy making it in your professional world.
I can recall many times when I took a big risk, only because I knew that I would have a shoulder to cry on if I failed. Only by taking some big risks can you innovate in your field or stand out as a unique contributor.
“With a safety net, you can be fearless in trying out new ideas, new ways of doing things”
PEARL #5 YOU ARE FEARLESS BECAUSE YOU PLAY FAIR
It may seem that there needs to be a lot of unladylike pushing and shoving on your way to the top. Or that you may need to “bend the rules” or compromise your core values “a little” to deal with the obstacles on your way. Don’t take the short cut. It’s highly likely that your top position will also be short lived. One of those enemies that you made on the way to the top will eventually get you, and there is always a high price to pay for compromises. Whatever your core values are, make them non-negotiable. Make them guide your heart, thought and actions.
Corporate life is like sailing through a sea full of storms. I had many occasions when the survival of my organization (my ship) was as stake. Others when my sense of self-worth was attacked (I’ve had my share of sexist remarks and corporate politics). The temptation to break the rules “just this once” or act “out of character” was high. But I didn’t budge because I knew I was dealing with something that was in the surface. That in the depths of the sea, my sense of self and wellbeing was calm and safe. Nothing could touch me.
“You are fearless because you know who you are and what you stand for”