Category Archives: Confidence

Just getting on with it can make you more confident



aidan-turnerIn recent interviews Poldark star Aidan Turner has talked about blagging his way into the role by telling casting directors he could ride a horse.  He couldn’t really, but once he had secured the part he gave it a go.  I heard him telling the same entertaining story to Sara Cox, relishing the tale and amused by his own cheek.  My favourite part of the interview was when he said ‘I nailed it. I just pretended to be good and it turned into a real thing’.

You can hear what he said here:

By contrast, in the past few weeks I have spoken to at least five intelligent, competent, fabulous women, all of whom did not go for a promotion, take on new responsibilities or leave their comfort zone because they ‘didn’t feel ready’.  When I asked when they would feel ready the answer was always ‘in a couple of years’.  So the next question has to be ‘What will have changed in two years?’.  That’s a question that they usually can’t answer.  Why?  Because nothing will have changed in their thinking.  No matter what happens they probably still won’t feel ready in 2 years’ time.

The truth is, if we waited until we felt ready there is very little we would achieve.  Sometimes you just have to ask yourself what’s the worst that can happen*, take a deep breath and dive right in.

Getting over yourself and getting on with it is one of my favourite ways of boosting confidence. Men, like Aidan, do it all the time.  If we act confident, we are confident; we become what we think.

Confidence is something many women struggle with.  On 24th September 2016 I’ll be running a Woman flyingworkshop designed to help you understand what affects your own confidence (it’s different for everyone) and then find ways of stopping your self-doubt from getting in your way.  For more info and to book click here

And whatever you do, be more like Aidan, but please keep your shirt on!

*You could make a mistake, you might feel a bit daft, maybe even make a bit of a fool of yourself but people will respect you for having a go.  And if whatever you’re trying doesn’t go quite as well as you would have liked, you will still have had a wonderful experience that you can learn from, that will help you do even better next time and be more confident about trying

6 things you can do to be taken seriously at work

6 things you can do to be taken seriously at work

enjoying_a_meetingIn my last blog I shared, with her permission, extracts from a coaching conversation with Rachel, a client who doesn’t feel that she’s always taken seriously enough at work. In comparing her own behaviour and attitude with those of Sally, a colleague just a couple of years older who has the credibility Rachel wants, she realised that she had a problem with boundaries, which meant that she was sometimes behaving inappropriately and unprofessionally at work. Having identified the issue Rachel was halfway to solving the problem: she practised thinking before she spoke, catching herself if she was about to be indiscreet about her private life and quickly got into a pattern of more professional behaviour at work. In later sessions we started to look what else Sally, and other senior women Rachel respected, did to earn the respect of their colleagues. Over a few sessions Rachel came up with this list of six things you can do to be taken more seriously at work (shared with her permission):

  • Be professional. In other words turn up on time; do what you tell people you’re going to do; honour your commitments, under-promise and over-deliver.
  • Keep developing your knowledge. ‘Not just the formal stuff, or doing the minimum you have to do for CPD (continuous professional development). Follow industry news, learn about the economy, find out what your clients are interested in. Understand what matters to them and make sure you can talk to them knowledgably.’
  • Take yourself seriously and act like you should be taken seriously in turn. ‘Which isn’t to say that Sally doesn’t have a sense of humour,’ said Rachel, ‘she does, she’s a really good laugh. But she’s not out for a laugh at all costs’ ‘So she uses humour in the right way?’ ‘Yes, she’ll use it to get things moving or defuse difficult situations or even emphasise a point. But it’s never cruel or smutty or irrelevant.’
  • Speak up in meetings, show that you have a good contribution to make. ‘She’ll challenge people, but in a really nice way. It doesn’t come across as point-scoring, she’s just getting them to think’.
  • Don’t get emotional in public: no tears or tantrums. ‘I burst into tears once and everyone treated me weirdly for ages afterwards. At my last appraisal I was told I’m too emotional and need to get it under control. It’s not just me though, one of the guys in the office got really angry about something and threw his phone at the wall, smashed it to bits. Now people avoid him, they won’t ask him to do anything in case he loses his temper.’

What do you think of Rachel’s list? What would you add to it?

* All names have been changed. This story has been told with the permission of ‘Rachel’.

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Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

Alchemy A-Z of being in business: N is for networking

I got to my first ever networking session early and headed to the bar. I really didn’t want to be there but I was the boss so it was expected of me. As the barman made my drink someone marched up, shook my hand and introduced himself.  I froze. I didn’t want to talk to this guy, I didn’t know him and certainly didn’t like the look of him so I grabbed my drink and, while he was placing his order, headed off to the opposite side of the room where I could see someone I knew.

The thing is, I wasn’t at a singles night; it didn’t matter whether I liked the look of people or not. I was there to represent my company and make new business contacts, not chat to old ones.  I missed a big opportunity because the guy turned out to be head of procurement at a target client and I never got the chance to talk to him informally again. I was rude to him and disrespectful and he never did become a customer.

That was my first experience of ‘proper’ networking. Like many people I really didn’t enjoy it at first but the good news is that networking is a skill you can develop; it really does get easier and more enjoyable with practice.  I would go so far as to say that if you’re in business networking is something you simply must learn how to do. It’s a great way of getting yourself and what you do known in the local business community but it can help you do so much more: make new contacts, find new clients and opportunities, develop relationships with trusted suppliers and advisers, find people who can support you and even make friends. Here are my top tips for successful networking:

exchanging_cards1. Choose the networking event wisely. If you’re not at your best first thing in the morning try a lunchtime or evening meeting rather than an early breakfast. Next, look at the type of people who go along. Free events are often busy but they tend to attract micro businesses, freelancers and sole traders who may not need or want your services.  If they’re not the right sort of customers and clients for you then look for a different event.

2. Think about what will work best for you. Regular meetings of a small group will help you really get to know your fellow members and build great relationships but they can take up a lot of time. Formal meetings with a commitment to give referrals can really get you moving and bring discipline to your networking although you may find the pressure to identify opportunities for other members a bit too much.  Informal, large events can be fun and energizing but also a bit random, sometimes they’re just too big.  Women new to running their own businesses may find all-female meetings good for building confidence and keeping motivation high.

3.  Make sure you have a great elevator pitch or 60 seconds speech: a short description of what you do and the benefits to your clients. Tell a story, be entertaining but please don’t bang on about how long you’ve been in business, get very technical or try to cram in everything you do. The point of the elevator pitch is to pique interest and lead to a longer conversation, you’re not selling anything at this stage. Make sure you keep it short, always stay within the allotted time. Practice and time new pitches.

4. Go into it with a positive attitude. If you think an event will be rubbish and a waste of time you’ll be absolutely right.

5. Talk to, not at, people. A networking event can be the start of a mutually beneficial relationship but there’s a long way to go before you get to that point. So chat to people, find out about them, have a conversation, start to build that relationship. If you bombard them with all there is to know about you then you’ll never see them again.

6. Follow up. Soon after the meeting send an email or text saying how much you enjoyed chatting and maybe suggest a coffee if appropriate and you want to find out more about them. Connect on LinkedIn with a personalized message reminding them where and when you met. Don’t send them all your promotional material unless they’ve specifically asked for it.

7. Learn from the experience. After a networking event think about what went well, what you could have done differently and what you would do better next time.

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I’m a professional, not in sales. How do I do business development?

I’m a professional, not in sales. How do I do business development?

A client called me a couple of weeks ago lamenting the fact that he had just been promoted and was now expected to ‘do’ business development in addition to all of his other tasks. First off, he just didn’t know how but more fundamentally he felt as though ‘sales’ was a sleazy activity, unbecoming to a highly qualified, highly trained professional like himself.

Sleazy_salesmanInterestingly, it’s not just professionals who feel this way, the fact that you have to go out and generate leads and convert them into paying customers seems to shock many small business owners (including me when I first started out). If this is you read on for some help on how to get your head around business development.

We often have a knee jerk reaction to the words ‘sales’ or ‘salesman’. Just think about what words and images you associate with ‘sales’.  I’ll bet most of them aren’t very complimentary and a picture of someone with a shiny suit and a false smile just popped into your head.  But business development is more than just selling.  It’s really about raising awareness of you, your firm and the products and services you offer. It involves providing information to allow potential customers to evaluate options and make the right choice for them and then closing the deal but only when they have decided that they’re ready to buy from you.   It’s not about forcing someone to pay for stuff they don’t want, it’s about helping potential clients to make the right choices for them.  Hmm – doesn’t that sound much more palatable than selling?


The fact is that many senior positions, or running your own business, will involve building relationships with potential customers and maintaining relationships with existing and past customers. So start by changing how you think about sales: forget the selling bit and focus on developing great relationships and providing great service then, guess what, you’ll also be great at business development.

I’ll be adding some more on business development, networking, building relationships and, yes, selling over the coming weeks so watch out for future blogs, helpsheets and e-books.   In the meantime why not have a free coaching session on me?

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Newly promoted and it’s all a bit weird? Here’s some help

Newly promoted and it’s all a bit weird? Here’s some help

NewbosspissedoffstaffThe first time I got promoted I was clueless; I had a team of four and no management training whatsoever. My predecessor was widely held to have been a good manager so I decided that I would do exactly what she used to do.
One of her quirks was that at about 5pm she would go round the team, ask what they were working on and tell them they could go as soon as they had finished whatever it was they were doing. So at about 5 on my first day as supervisor I went over to the management accountant, asked what she was working on and told her she could go when she was ready. She looked at me with pure contempt, said very sarcastically, ‘Thanks Jackie, I will do’ and turned her back to me. A cold wind blew through the office, our relationship was never quite the same again and I was totally baffled as to what I had done wrong.  The fact is that when you’re starting out in management people do often treat you differently and it’s very easy to make mistakes.  If you’re interested in finding out what to do, read on.

Think about it from your colleagues’ point of view. It’s a big change for you; but it’s also a big change for everyone else.  And while it’s a positive change for you (recognition, advancement, more money and so on) it may not be quite so good for everyone else.  Nobody is sure how it will pan out so there are lots of unanswered questions.  What sort of boss will you be?  Will you change towards them? How will your relationship change (because it will, inevitably)? What will it mean for them? As well as the uncertainty, everyone will be experiencing different emotions. Some people will feel a sense of loss: one of the gang has moved on and that’s sad.  Some people will be pleased for you and want to help in any way they can; others will be envious and do their best to undermine you.  In addition to the individual responses the team as a whole may well be mourning the loss of a good boss and will take time to adjust to the idea of someone else being in charge (that was one of my problems in the example above).

As for you, start by looking at yourself. How has your behaviour changed towards your friends and colleagues?  Maybe you’re being a bit distant and ‘off’, perhaps they think you’re throwing your weight around a bit too much.  (I once asked everyone out for a drink to celebrate my payrise, a well-intentioned gesture but I cringe when I think how I must have come across). If your behaviour is unhelpful ask yourself why you’re acting like that and what you can do about it. Catch yourself if you’re not behaving in any way that helps the team to adjust to the new situation. Above all, don’t try too hard or, worse, try to be someone else (another of my mistakes): you have to develop your own leadership style.

At the heart of it all, as always, is communication – be clear about what you want from the team, and what your expectations are. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. A more experienced manager should be able to mentor you and provide some good advice and support; the team will also be able to help you through those difficult first few weeks if you let them.  However this may well be a time whn you find it useful to work with someone outside your company.  Why not start with a free coaching session us?

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Feel like you don’t know enough? Here’s what to do about it

Feel like you don’t know enough? Here’s what to do about it

When I qualified as an accountant rather than being proud of myself I was terrified. I was immediately promoted, given a big pay rise and offered the keys to a company car (even though I couldn’t drive at the time). I was also given much more responsibility and expected to up my game considerably – no more study leave, no more cutting me slack because I was a trainee. ‘Now you’re qualified you should….’ was a sentence opener that I came to dread because it usually led to me feeling very, very stupid and inexperienced.
That piece of paper suddenly cast me as an expert when really I felt like a dunce. It was the same whenever I changed jobs and acquired new responsibilities. What I didn’t know is that many newly promoted people feel the same – they’ve spent years learning how to be good at something but now they’re managers or partners the job is different and they need to develop a whole range of new skills and experiences. If that happens to you read on to find out why and what you can do about it.

Let’s start with why.

When we achieve the holy grail of qualification we’re no longer a junior or a trainee, our charge-out rate goes up and so do expectations – people who were senior to us even start treating us more like equals. But we don’t know any more than we did yesterday when we were still waiting for our results!

Because we’re suddenly expected to do more and know more we tend to become very aware of all the things that we just don’t know. We’ve moved into in a state psychologists call ‘conscious incompetence’ and started to focus on how little we understand rather than how much we know. And it feels horrible. We want unconscious competence, when you can do things naturally and well,l but that seems like a long way off.

How do you fix it?

Firstly, accept it; it happens to everyone. New roles are challenging and unsettling, that’s just a fact (see my helpsheet on coping with change for more info). Remember that it will get easier with time but you can help things along.

1. Think about what skills and experience you need to develop (maybe talk to your boss, someone responsible for talent management or even someone in the year ahead of you) and decide how you’re going to do it. It’s important here to think about what interests you – if you’re rubbish at tax and have zero interest in that area of expertise then don’t go there even if there are opportunities available; instead find something you enjoy and focus on that. Don’t forget that study after study shows that we are more successful and experience less stress when we enjoy what we do. Then ask your firm to provide you with a mentor and help pay for any additional training you need. Don’t wait for appraisal time; be proactive – do it as soon as you are ready. It shows you’re keen to get on.

2. It might help to find a coping mechanism. My nightmare scenario was being at a networking or other meeting and someone asking me a question I couldn’t answer. It happened all the time and I felt so embarrassed and useless. It was the same when I started coaching too. People can usually tell if you’re bluffing so don’t try and bluster your way out of it. In reality there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying you don’t know something; it’s better to be honest yet constructive.

What to say.

Here are some of the lines I’ve used to get me over that awkward ‘I don’t know!’ moment:

‘It would be unprofessional of me to answer that without having much more information. I offer a free initial consultation, shall we find a time for you to come into the office and we can start to explore the issue?’
‘You know tax/VAT/whatever is really complicated and it’s not my area of expertise. Why don’t I get someone from our tax/VAT/whatever department to give you a call?’
‘That sounds tricky! Let me give you a call to arrange a meeting to talk about in more detail. Have you got a card?’
‘We can’t really talk here, why don’t we meet for a coffee and talk about that in more detail?’
‘You know I’m not sure about that. Let me check it out and give you a call in a day or two (or whatever timescale is appropriate).’
Just make sure that you do get back to them! Failing to follow up as promised is much, much worse than not being able to answer a technical question.

3. Get over yourself! We’re all nervous at one time or another and we seldom feel like we know enough about anything. But if you stretch yourself and get away from that comfort zone you’ll find that it gets easier to to deal with new situations and challenges. Why not take a deep breath and just do it?

I hope you find this useful. If you’d like support and advice tailored just for you, our confidential coaching sessions help professionals improve confidence, leadership skills and all-round performance. Book your free coaching session here.

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Why undervaluing your achievements saps your confidence

Why undervaluing your achievements saps your confidence

‘It was nothing, anyone could have done it’.

WomanhidingEver wondered why you’ve been promoted, got a great new job or been asked to work on that brilliant project?

I have.  I’ve struggled with confidence my whole life; I could never believe that I was capable of the things others saw in me. In fact I once talked myself out of a brilliant job with a major consulting firm by telling the interviewer that I couldn’t believe they were even considering little old me for the role.  I had the job in the bag until I dropped that bombshell.

Not everyone is as outspoken (stupid?) as I was, but many women in the workplace (and some men) seem baffled by their own successes, and deep down, don’t feel that they deserve to be where they are.  If you ever feel that way, read on.

When we’re successful we sometimes think that if we did it surely anyone could have done the same?  Not so.  Most people did not do it.  Most people do not pass difficult exams over and over again.  Not everyone does a great job, day in and day out; many people just do enough to get by.

You on the other hand did pass your exams and are doing a great job.  So why do you belittle what you achieved?  Why aren’t you proud of yourself? (I’m not talking about arrogance here – you can be proud of what you’ve done without seeming cocky or overbearing). The fact is that awareness of and pride in your own achievements can be the starting point for building confidence and having a great career.

Our accomplishments and achievements are what psychologists call ‘mastery experiences’, knowing we have done things well in the past increases our belief that we will be able to do similar things well in the future and that increases confidence.

Knowing that we have done things well, and acknowledging the achievement are of course two different things, and for many people recognising success is at odds with our desire to seem modest.  However we often take modesty too far; there really is nothing wrong with quietly knowing how good we are.

So the next time your boss compliments you on a job well done, instead of shrugging and saying ‘anyone could have done that’ or ‘oh it was nothing’, smile, say thank you and remember that it was you who actually got on and did it!  And when you need a confidence boost draw on those memories of jobs well done and past successes to help you cope with new challenges.

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