Don’t Let Doubt Limit Your Potential: Advice for Emerging Women Leaders

Female coworkers smiling

Women have gained solid ground in recent years. By many measures women have a voice, respect, place, and power. But we still face significant challenges and many of us struggle for a sense of progress and purpose.

Working with career minded, talented women I’ve discovered three common internal challenges: confidence, finding voice, and fatigue. While these issues are tied to societal circumstances, tackling them with intention can reduce some of the internal and external friction we experience. While acknowledging that there are systemic forces affecting women in the workforce, we can also embrace change of own perspective and behavior to reframe our individual experience.


Recently I’ve been advising two women through their career changes. Both were uncomfortable with the prospect of salary negotiations. After establishing a reasonable strategy they stood their ground and secured awesome financial offers. Many of us, including me, struggle to ask for more money.  Even when we know we are worth it. What stops us?

Confidence is routinely raised as a personal and very private sense of shortcoming among the women I work with.   “I may seem confident but inside I am so doubtful and unsure”, “I talk myself out of everything,” or “Everyone else is confident but I’m not” are common laments.

With the natural desire to be liked, we’ve been conditioned to lead by example rather than more directly ask for what we want, to play a strong supporting role, and to believe that our sheer competence will compensate for a lack in overt confidence.

But these approaches can erode our personal power. Even the most successful women leaders speak honestly about “confidence crisis” and the “imposter syndrome” – when they harbour fears of acting the part and not fully commanding their professional roles.

We can gain a sense of power by turning the volume up on that normally quiet internal voice that says “I can do this!”while closing out the voice of disbelief. Reflecting on your own life experiences – both positive and negative – what have you learned about the power of your own mindset to influence the end result? This exercise can offer perspective and a heightened sense of personal power and possibility.

Finding Voice

Many women struggle to speak up because we sense we are not being heard and we experience being “talked over”. I’ve learned that with thoughtful focus we can reclaim our voice.

I once participated in a Premier’s advisory committee and after several meetings of feeling voice less, I promised myself that I would always ask the first question after a presentation. After embracing this secret promise I became increasingly comfortable expressing perspective and respectfully challenging opinions.  I was even told by another committee member, “You ask the best questions.” It was a good result but it was on me to summon and make use of my own voice.

When others interrupt or speak over us, rather than shut down, we should strengthen our voice. Respectfully challenge and discourage that behavior with:  “Allow me to finish my thought”, “Please don’t interrupt” or “I listened patiently while you offered your opinion please offer me the same respect.”

We further reduce our influence when we qualify our thoughts with statements like, “What if…”,  “Here’s an idea...”, or  “Maybe if we tried this.”  Consider reframing by saying “I recommend”, “I advocate”, or “I believe” to give added weight and credibility to your words.


The chasm between work and family commitments and our deep sense of responsibility can lead to fatigue. I’ve long recommended striving for integration over the illusive search for balance. The concept of balance implies there are two forces at odds. The concept of healthy integration can be liberating. It gives permission for the two worlds to intermingle. This also requires making immediate and continuous decisions about where and when we need to focus our attentions and then committing to full engagement in whatever space we decide to occupy. I ask myself the question, “Where can I be most valuable right now?”

Saying "no", whether at work or home, is essential and often difficult. Yet every time we say "yes" we are inadvertently saying "no" to something else which may be a greater priority.

And finally, fatigue can only be fully alleviated when we prioritize our personal health. I work with women who say they divide all their time between work and family. Time is rarely allotted to friendships, hobbies, education, and health. These latter four enable us to be more effective in the former two.  And yet, we insist on driving the car without gas and we wonder how we end up on the roadside.

Recently, while facilitating an Elevating Women in Leadership workshop I was asked what advice I would give to my 40-year-old self. My response? Give yourself permission to indulge in something just for you. I did this seventeen years ago when I started to run. Running afforded me personal goals, friendships, travel, fitness, strength, confidence, and joy.  The road has also been my therapist to help me to make meaning of life’s challenges. We aren’t all cut out to be runners but investing in a personal passion will pay dividends for life.

Moving forward

Hilary Clinton’s concession speech in 2016 was superb. Her message clear, generous, and empowering. Recall that Clinton made an unprecedented decision to cancel her concession speech the night of the election, changed venue, and couldn’t possibly have slept before she took the stage to address a tearful, exhausted audience of campaign workers. My daughter has these words from that memorable speech framed in her apartment.

“To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve you own dreams.”

In those moments when you feel the greatest doubt, I hope you can reflect on these words and remember each of us is valuable, powerful, and deserving.

Interested in learning more about Elevating Women in Leadership? Visit the program website.