This week, I faced my demons.
Given the formidable task of presenting at the Women in Media and Communications Leadership Summit, I shared the stage with an impressive line-up of female leaders.
It forced me to face the demons within: those voices suggesting that I really wasn't good enough to be there.
And in doing so, I was struck again by how difficult women can make leadership for themselves.
Panic and preparation
Throughout my career, I have been plagued by a lack of self-belief.
I would never have believed in my ability to be a leader if it weren't for the male managers and mentors who identified my leadership potential – long before I saw the capability within myself.
And each time I present to large groups, I nurse my anxiety with hours of preparation and moments of panic.
Now that I work with, and coach, executives on leadership and communication, I'm often struck by how quickly female leaders turn the discussion to confidence issues.
During my presentation, I spoke about the work I've done throughout my career to convert my inner voice from foe to friend, and this seemed to resonate with the audience. Many women admitted to feeling that they had to 'fake it until they made it', and were comforted to know they weren't alone in facing the 'impostor syndrome'.
Character and competency
The theme of my presentation was 'building trusted relationships', as this has been the driving force behind my career. For me, nothing builds success as fast as the speed of trust.
Earning and giving trust is a factor of both character and competency. It is the key to building high performing teams and is paramount to winning executive support and fostering customer loyalty. The ability to form trusted relationships brings professional success as well as personal fulfillment.
However, the most critical trust relationship for long-term success is the one we have with ourselves.
Success and sanity
As business leaders, we have to be able to back ourselves. My tips for building confidence are simple to understand, but difficult to execute on an ongoing basis.
They are, nonetheless, essential to building your success while saving your sanity.
1. Manage your mind:
a. Defeat negative self-talk with rational positive thinking
b. Use visualisation techniques to create strong mental images of your success
2. Be yourself, and look after yourself
3. Truly commit to success: you need determination and stamina to reach the goals you've set yourself
4. Set small goals, achieve them and celebrate success
5. Don't take it personally: try your best, but detach yourself from the outcome
I was really pleased by the overwhelming support that the conference speakers and attendees gave to each other and the commitment this group, and many others, have to improving the alarmingly low female leadership numbers in Australia.
However, self-belief can only come from one place. If we are to assume our rightful places as co-leaders on this planet, we need to look after ourselves and we need to believe in ourselves.
Ava Lawler is the managing director of Weber Shandwick in Australia.
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