Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s recent admission that she experiences periods of self-doubt is a reminder of the human nature of leading. It highlights that self-doubt (in moderation) can actually be a positive experience, prompting leaders to rethink their strategies, reality check their perspectives and be more open to (perhaps previously dismissed) feedback.
Self-doubt can be the initiator of better solutions and more creative thinking, rather than a signalling of personal weakness (as detractors would have us believe). However when self-doubt is magnified, this can undermine an individual’s sense of who they are as a leader and impact a whole range of performance factors, including how they show up at work.
From a gender perspective, Gillard’s admission spotlights the challenge for many women in maintaining their sense of self at work. While on a conference call recently with female leaders, I found this came up in terms of managing their many competing priorities, giving too much to others, and the sense of losing themselves in the process. This is a common challenge for women when we add in the so-called “double burden” of managing both the responsibilities of work and home (an often documented derailer for women in their careers: double burden = double trouble).
The experience of losing a sense of self is not limited to women. The ways in which women and men can lose their identity can be similar – often based on the high performing work demands of many workplaces, and the expectations individuals place on themselves. However, such experiences can also be different – based on the cultural and societal norms that vary between genders and navigating the gender dynamics at work.
So what are some of the proven strategies that help women bring more of themselves to work?
- Spend time articulating your unique self.
This may feel cumbersome to women who tell us they don’t have the time to reflect but it is vital. In order to bring more of yourself to work, you must be able to define what this looks like for you (for your specific and unique situation and for all of the reasons that make you an individual). Prescriptions about what works for most women or what women “should” do have little place in our dialogue today. Every woman has a unique set of circumstances and talents that can only be realised by taking an individual approach. Taking time to answer: “What does bringing more of yourself to work look like for you?” is a key step.
- Acknowledge the best parts of yourself
Everyone has the capacity to showcase the best parts of who they are. Acknowledging your unique values, strengths, beliefs and expertise, and choosing to put these into action is a powerfully simple way for you to bring more of yourself to work. Asking: “Am I showcasing the best aspects of myself at work?” or “What is one way I can apply my personal values this week?” are useful check-in points that can reignite a sense of your uniqueness and of realising your potential.
- Dissect your day
Identifying the day to day situations in which women feel like they are not being true to themselves is another helpful exercise. On interrogation, women often realise that there are many instances where they have been able to maintain their sense of self, (challenging a common tendency to overgeneralise or focus too much on the negative). Answering the question: “What situations does my authentic self show up?” and “What situations does it not?” can highlight a more realistic perspective on yourself and outline a tangible path for action that is situation specific.
- Externalise your thinking
Any type of journaling is an act of externalising the inner gymnastics of your mind. Research shows that reflecting on successes can reinforce a sense of positivity. Research also shows that women are more inclined to internalise the shortcomings of their workplace as something that is wrong with them, rather than something that belongs to the situation in which they find themselves. By getting into the habit of journaling and recording your thoughts in writing, you can more easily challenge your thinking and identify recurring patterns more accurately. Answering the questions: “Which of these patterns belong to me?” and “Which belong to my environment?” can help prevent you from taking on too much, and also assist you in targeting your efforts to best effect.
- Be intentional
Bringing more of yourself to work requires effort and action. Being deliberate about how you show up at work can be both challenging and rewarding (and everyone’s experience of this can vary widely, depending on where you work). However the more you choose to do this, the more powerfully these behaviours will be integrated into your everyday. Research shows that finessing how you show up at work is a process that spans your entire career as you move in and out of various life stages and work environments. However it is also a process that can lift your personal satisfaction and can contribute to greater career success and longevity. How will you bring more of yourself to work today?