“Can we see more women leaders in operations?” Of course, we can. I scanned the room of women who were present for an International Women’s Day event. I asked, “How many of you applied for the role of operations manager recently advertised?”
I said, “I look forward to some of your applications.” Silence. I held my breath. I said to myself, “Mary, don’t say anything. Just wait.”
Finally, one responded, “I don’t want to put myself out there if I am likely to fail.”
Others responded with nods, a show of support to their colleague who spoke up despite her hesitancy to disclose her fear. This all-or-nothing thinking is stopping this potential talent and many others from moving ahead. It pains me to witness talent, especially women talent in non-traditional occupations, get stuck in the details of what may be possible, and to lose sight of the bigger picture.
As managers, mentors, coaches, we frequently encounter situations like these. We come up against the limiting voices of self-doubt in the employees we support.
Where is the source of self-doubt?
Everyone, at some point, gets themselves into a battle with their inner critic. The inner critic is an annoying little voice of self-doubt inside our heads that always seems to highlight flaws and wipes out confidence. When something great happens, it whispers, “You are not worthy.”
When life gets hard, it makes you feel like everyone else is doing well, and you are the only one struggling. It makes you question your capacity to make good decisions when things don’t go exactly as expected. This voice of self-doubt makes us lose sight of who we are and encourages us to take the ‘easier’, more comfortable, expected route.
The mission of the inner critic is to limit our potential, see ourselves in contrast to an ideal that we never chose for ourselves, and make us strive to be someone that we’re not.
Experiencing self-doubt is normal.
One of the most powerful ways to unlock employees’ potential is to give them a toolkit for acknowledging their inner critic and developing skills to manage their inner critic.
Acknowledging the “inner critic”
Introducing the concept of the “inner critic” to the employees you support is a start.
Reminding them they are not alone.
Encouraging them to become familiar, by reading up about inner critic to learn more about the concept.
Keeping a journal about the fears caused by their inner critic is one way to acknowledge its presence.
Creating a supportive environment makes it easier for employees to trust and share more openly about their fears, and self-doubts.
Developing skills to manage the “inner critic”
Encouraging your employees to check-in with themselves when the inner critic, the voice of self-doubt is speaking. For example:
- “I don’t want to put myself out there if I am likely to fail.”
- “You’ll never get ahead or be successful.”
- “No one values how hard you work.”
- “You can’t handle this stress.”
- “You’re lazy.”
Encouraging them to examine the messages of the inner critic by externalising it.
Say the message out loud or write it down.
Then, change “I” to “you.” For example, if the voice of the inner critic is saying, “I am terrible at working with Excel Spreadsheets,” then say or write down the sentence “You are terrible at working with Excel Spreadsheets.”
This allows for a sense of distance so that employees can truly see what the inner critic is saying and see that is not an accurate statement about them.
Transforming the critical voice into a voice of compassion by responding to the statement with a more accurate and compassionate statement. For example:
- “I want to have a go in applying for the role, so that I become familiar with the job application and selection process.”
- “I am worthy of success as I have come a long way.”
- “I know my contribution is valued.”
- “I am adopting some new strategies to help me with cope with the recent stress.”
- “I know I am not lazy. I am creating space in my diary for time to think.”
Self-belief is such an important quality to have. Without the ability to believe in their own worth and actions, our employees may struggle to reach their full potential and succeed. Acknowledging and identifying with their inner critic can help them change their thinking, translating their self-doubts to self-belief.
Enabling employees to develop skills to manage their inner critic turns up the volume of the positive voice, giving them confidence to take up new challenges and the belief that they can do it.
Mary Vaz (Reddy) enjoys a portfolio career as a DrivenWoman certified Group Leader and Ambassador in Australia, a Human Resources Professional, and a director in a family-run business.
DrivenWoman works with companies committed to improving diversity and inclusion within their organisations by helping women gain confidence, tackle self-doubt and put their ideas into practice. At DrivenWoman women experience unconditional acceptance and non-judgement. It creates deep connectivity and a feeling of possibility leading to focus, and ability to take action. It is a cost effective way to support a large group of women across organisations.