By Maxine Myers, Communications Manager, Imperial College London
Confidence is an important attribute of being a leader and leadership more generally. Although I am confident in the work I deliver and my ability to do it, the one thing that I have found difficult is self-confidence.
My lack of confidence has held me back during my career and I have found myself not speaking out in meetings, putting myself forward for opportunities and generally feeling like I am not good enough to be in my role.
There’s a couple of reasons why I felt l like this. It is incredibly overwhelming to often be the only non-white face in a room. The feeling of otherness is so pronounced that it has made me retreat into myself. Secondly, I used to doubt myself a lot and worry about whether my suggestions and views were good enough to air.
Although feelings of uncertainty are a normal part of professional life, I realised that this hesitation was holding me back. I would leave meetings wondering why I didn’t say anything or shared my perspective. I realised that I have a lot to offer and it was through reflection and performance reviews that I knew my lack of self-confidence was something I needed to work on.
Over the last three years, I have taken steps to put myself forward, to not hesitate in accepting opportunities and to start to believe in myself more. Below are just some of the things I did, what I’ve learnt and how it is helping me in my leadership journey.
Stepping into things that you find daunting
One of the first things that I started doing is putting myself forward to present at our all-staff meetings, training sessions, chair meetings and to take part in panel discussions.
Before, I would occasionally present to our team on my work but then I started accepting further presenting opportunities in our division, as well as different departments within my organisation and outside of it.
I would be incredibly nervous beforehand but the more I did it and the more positive feedback I received, the more confident I became. Not focussing on the nerves allowed me to turn my attention to developing as a presenter and giving presentations that would engage with the audience. Of course, things go wrong especially when tech is involved but I have learnt just to roll with it, not to be flustered and to keep going. Now, I enjoy sharing my perspectives and learnings and being more visible has helped me feel more comfortable in spaces where I stick out.
I think doing this has helped my development as a leader, more people have seen what I can do, I am a better communicator as a result and I feel these opportunities are not something to run from but to embrace.
I feel fortunate to be on The Xec. leadership programme and I’m learning so much. One of the many great aspects of the programme is that I have met lots of fantastic leaders who have been generous with their time, knowledge and honesty. I have learned imposter syndrome is a common experience and it has been interesting to hear how others have navigated it. My mentor has been brilliant at helping me with this. Whether it is learning body language techniques to boost self-esteem ahead of an interview, big meeting or presentation or just having someone to talk these feelings through has made me feel less alone in this.
Confidence in my leadership
I have set up and joined project teams to implement initiatives such as a media academy for BME staff. I have found myself taking on more of a leadership role in these groups. I have been setting the agenda, chairing meetings and placing deadlines for work. Being confident in sharing my ideas has meant that I get more perspectives and the opportunity to build on them. Through these groups I have started to learn more about my style as a leader – collaborative, supportive and enthusiastic – and honing in on those skills so that I can be the type of leader that I want to be led by.
Of course, confidence doesn’t mean competence and often being the loudest in the room doesn’t mean your ideas are any good. I’m also aware that toxic work environments can chip away at your confidence, create anxiety, and exacerbate self-doubt. It goes without saying that companies need to create workplace environments where BME staff can thrive.
I know developing in confidence is not something that happens overnight and it’s still a work in progress. There are times when I doubt myself and I have to resist the urge to retreat into myself but the key is not to hold onto this. This new approach led to more opportunities and I feel better within myself. More people have had the chance to get to know me and I have opened myself up to new and daunting challenges. What I have learnt from putting myself out there is to do it as there’s always a return.
Maxine was awarded a place on The Xec. Leadership Scheme for UK-based Black, Asian, Mixed Race and Ethnic Minority PR and comms pros. She will be mentored by Alicia Solanki, Managing Director Client Experience, Ketchum London.