As an executive coach, keynote speaker, and leadership crusader, I deliver scores of leadership workshops, keynotes, and coaching each year, helping women in particular build more success and growth in their careers, leadership and lives. In the sixteen years I have been crusading this space and where I have offered these types of programs, I’ve been genuinely shocked at the number of women (hundreds upon hundreds) who indicate they want to join a program (whether it’s $10, $100, or even $1,000), but never pull the trigger. And even when they do, they don’t commit to themselves. This is hurting them.
How can women overcome their fear of achieving more success?
So many examples of meaningless activities or “busyness” distract women from their growth. I can tell you categorically that this is different behaviour from what I see in the men who come to me for help. This reluctance relates to all forms of development — classes, coaching, certification, joining industry associations, attending networking functions, asking for funding, getting help with business plans, and much more.
Typically, men hear me speak or read my website and blog, talk to me, and then quickly say ” Yes ” to work together. No hemming and hawing, no “Let me have a few days to think about this,” and certainly not “I don’t have the time to invest into this.” A part of this behaviour is a lack of confidence women experience in investing in their growth or how this type of investment and commitment will make a difference. If I had a time machine, I would say to younger myself – Please invest in your leadership and self-development now! Right now. It had made the greatest difference to my life – without a doubt.
Much research and writing has been done about this confidence gap in women and its root causes. I have my theories and beliefs about what contributes to it today (including cultural training, rigid gender roles, role modelling, etc.). I’ve faced gender discrimination and know how crippling it can be. But as someone who spent years as a CEO and advisor focused on advancing women, I’m less interested in the causes and more in the solutions. I’ve come to see that this is not a myth – women often let their doubts and insecurities about themselves stop them, whereas men tend to push forward despite their misgivings. For example, in Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In, she references an internal report at Hewlett-Packard that revealed that women only apply for open positions and roles if they think they meet 100 percent of the criteria listed; men apply if they feel they meet 60 percent of the requirements. I share this not to be unsupportive to women but to help us all understand what’s holding us back to achieve what we long for. After all, greater awareness equals greater choice. Remember leadership is about awareness and choices.
The more seriously you take your self-development, the more seriously others will take you!
Check-in and see if you’re suffering from this condition I call “fearful resistance to growth.” I’ve found the top five reasons why many women won’t invest in their growth when they should and why it hurts them. Do these sound familiar?
They need to check with someone else.
When it comes to personal and professional development (or anything in life, for that matter), you must make yourself the highest authority of your life. You need to know beyond a shadow of a doubt what you need, want, and deserve and go out and get it. It’s not up to your spouse or anyone else to tell you if you should make this investment – it’s up to you. You don’t need to ask permission to grow. (I know you’ll say that you and your partner must agree on your budgeting, etc. You need to know what’s necessary and find a way to get it.) In turn, embrace self-trust and realise you deserve development and growth.
They’re unsure if this is the “right” time, and I am too “busy.”
Here’s a harsh reality: We’re all over–the–top busy and over-committed, and it will never feel like the “right time” to invest in yourself. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t the best time. You’ll always be able to make excuses as to why you don’t have time to do something critical that will help you. But people who create great success, happiness, and success carve out the necessary time and money. They don’t get lost in why later would be better. They also know that if not now, then when?
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They need to be clearer about the return on investment.
Women worry, “Will I get enough out of this?” and “Will this be a mistake?” Ensuring that your investment offers a great return is a choice based on your actions and decisions, not some random act or chance occurrence. It requires thorough research and commitment to know if an investment will pay off, but more than that, it requires confidence and action to ensure the money you spend on yourself will be well worth it in the long run.
They’re scared that they’ll achieve more success.
Women hold themselves back from growth in so many ways. From distracting themselves with meaningless activities, doing too much for others (the perfectionist, over-functioning behavior I see so often), refusing to slow down and truly feel their emotions, to worrying that they’ll grow too busy for the family if they invest in their growth, they sabotage their development. I see so many women backing away from being all they can be in the world (and all they say they long to be) because of their fears and anxieties about what success will demand when they grow and play more significant in the world. You need to embrace fear to get to courage!
They fear the costs associated with this investment.
Finally, woman after woman has shared her guilt, shame, and worry that perhaps she should not spend this money on herself but put it towards others (her children, the house, etc.) instead. I’m not referring to cases where women must feed and provide for their children and don’t have money for outside expenses. I get it – I am a full-time solo mum, and the guilt and money are always on my mind. I’m talking about the women I hear from who are doing well in their careers — and still have extreme reservations about spending development money on themselves rather than using it for others’ good.
If just one woman each day would overcome her confidence gap, move through her reluctance to put herself first, and spend money, time, and effort on her growth and success (and then teach one hundred other women to do it), we’d have real progress for women in this country (and I’d be the happiest woman on the planet).
If you decide to commit and invest in any leadership and self-development, please commit to it. I often find women more so than men who invest in themselves or the organisation invests in them still find “busyness” or lack of self-trust and confidence stand in the way.
I want to ask you to join me in stimulating a breakthrough movement for women, starting with you. Is there an investment in yourself that you’ve been putting off that will help you contribute in a bigger, more rewarding, and exciting way in the world? Please, make it. We need more women to be role models, step up, stand up, and have the courage to lead.
By Sonia McDonald – CEO Of LeadershipHQ And Outstanding Leadership Awards, Leadership Coach, Global Keynote Speaker, Entrepreneur, CEO, Mum And Award Winning Author
Sonia is passionate about her voice. When Sonia speaks, everyone in the room feels like she is having a conversation with them as her audience will feel as if they are the only one in the room. She speaks from the heart. She is brave. She wants everyone to be brave. She is an impactful and motivational leadership expert and speaker that creates a life-changing experience. People call Sonia sassy, inspirational, real and a speaker who leaves a lasting impression. Her high-energy, authenticity and humour combined with actionable and practical advice, empowers her audience and provides them with great drive and confidence to take courageous actions and inspire great leadership in all aspects of their lives.
She is also the founder of LeadershipHQ and is a renowned and award-winning author, having written several of her own books, Leadership Attitude, Just Rock It! and First Comes Courage as well as being a regular contributor in The Australian, HRD Magazine, Smart Healthy Women and Women’s Business Media. She was named as one of the Top 250 Influential Women in the world as well as Top 100 Australian Entrepreneurs by Richtopia.
Through her leadership advisory and coaching work at LeadershipHQ, and founding the Outstanding Leadership Awards, Sonia is internationally recognised as an expert in leadership and culture, organisational development, neuroscience, kindness, and courage.