What do ubersuccessful women like Sheryl Sandberg, Amy Poehler and Scandal creator Shonda Rhimes have in common? I'd say that they're boldnot afraid to put themselves out there and say (or write, or do) what's on their mind, naysayers be damned. They ooze self-confidence, and it's authentic and contagious, making you want to hang on their every word. They're completely comfortable being a unique voice in the crowd.
This quality isn't limited to the rich and famous. There's always that woman at the cocktail party, in the doctor's waiting room or at the community meeting who makes people sit up and listen. Imagine walking into a room and having all eyes on you (and not because your skirt is tucked into your underwear). Even the shiest of us hope to be seen and heardafter all, we're the star of our own show. And we all want the freedom to live authentically, whether that means trying out a pixie cut without worrying that people think it's too boyish/edgy/young for us or getting behind a cause in a very vocal way. In fact, holding ourselves back when we have a driving need to do or say something can be frustrating at best and seriously disempowering at worst.
Women express this frustration to me all the time. My client Lila longed to be more of a leader. "I feel like I have so many great ideas when it comes to creating and organizing school events," she told me. "But when I present them to the other moms, I can't seem to get anyone's support." There was another woman, though, who always persuaded people to put her ideas into action. Lila experienced the same thing in her friendshipsshe was never the center of attention. Sometimes she wanted to be the Carrie instead of the Charlotte! So how could she muster up the nerve to do that?
I'll tell you: Lilalike many of usjust needed to learn how to be a leader, someone who puts herself out there and takes control of a situation, no qualms about it. Call it boldness, assertiveness, chutzpah or confidence, but it means being true to yourself and your vision and daring to live that way every day.
Don't get me wrongI'm not saying we should be rude or bossy or steamroll over other people. But too many of us feel uncomfortable asserting ourselves because we don't want to be seen as pushy or bitchy and risk alienating people or even losing our jobs or our relationships.
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Consider Jill Abramson, the first female executive editor of The New York Times, who was suddenly fired from her job earlier this year. The reasons seemed to include that she was "difficult" and "brusque"qualities that may actually have propelled her to such a challenging position in the first place and that, many people suggested, would simply be called "confidence" if displayed by a man.
The fact is, however, that there's a lot to be gained by living out loud. You'll get the power to be taken seriously, command respect, improve your life and be someone others are interested in listening to and even emulating. So do you have this kind of next-level confidence? Answer these questions to find out.
1. When you're attempting to sway people's opinions (whether getting friends to test out that dive restaurant on the other side of town or persuading co-workers to try a new way of doing things), are you armed with a strategy for how best to articulate your vision?
2. Do you share your real feelings without hesitationeven to a boss, a stranger or someone you're pretty sure has a different take on the topic?
3. Are you able to openly express anger, frustration, annoyance or disagreement without getting embarrassed or worrying about hurting other people's feelings?
4. Do you think you project an image of confidence, capability and strength?
If you answered no to any of these questions, it's worth considering whether you're missing out on some big opportunities because you're hiding your light under a bushel. (Ask yourself these same questions about your home life, work life and relationships; some of us are very confident at home, say, but less so in a business meeting.)
It may seem like the kind of strength I'm talking about here is something people are just born with, but you can develop the skills you need to be a take-charge type. Keep these ground rules in mind and you'll be on your way.
Trust your vision
We all have an inner voice that tells us what we really feel. Many of us suppress it for fear of going against the grain, but people who are big and bold follow their gut instinct and fight to put their thoughts into action. And the more you do it, the easier and more second nature it becomes.
Remember: Perfect is the enemy of the good
Women tend to wait and research until they have what they believe to be a flawless idea (or a diplomatic way of stating that idea) before they put it into the universe. Just spit it out! Either it's better than you think or your friends and colleagues will help you develop it into something brilliant and game changing. But sitting mutely is no good for anyone, least of all you.
Be the early bird
As you've probably noticed, the people who act first are the ones who get the proverbial worm. So do a little homework, yes, but then make a move. Any move. Propose a new solution at work, throw a spicy question into the cocktail-party mix, pitch a better school fundraiser. Take a step to stand out and you might be surprised by how much more people respect you and flock to you with new opportunities.
Don't be afraid to make mistakes
Accept that everyone fails from time to time, then pick up, move on and use what you've learned to do better. Say you lobby the higher-ups at work to provide some kind of reimbursement for gym memberships but strike out. The good news is, now you've got the right contacts and connections for the next time you have a big idea to pitchand in the meantime, you've earned props from your peers and boss for being such a go-getter.
Talk Like a Boss
Do you clam up in large groups? Try these remedies from Matt Eventoff, owner of Princeton Public Speaking in New Jersey.
Be a slow talker
Pause briefly at the end of a sentence to sound more authoritative. People will lean in to listen to what comes next, and you'll be less prone to using filler words (like, uh, um) that can make you seem nervous. If someone cuts you off during the break, smile warmly and (in a nonconfrontational way) say, "Actually, I wasn't finished." Then resume.
Speak loud and proud
Stand up straight to open your vocal tract and speak from your diaphragm; you'll create a stronger voice (not to mention a commanding presence).
Power up your words
Use declarative statements, like "I know" rather than "I think," to show confidence in your opinions. Adding wishy-washy phrases, like "kind of," or ending sentences with "right?" will undermine your points.
Play with pitch
If you have a loud personality, lower your voice to drive home a message. If you're quiet, enunciate and speak up.
Own the convo
Can't get a word in? Say, "That's a great point!" to butt in. Then pivot the topic to something you're passionate about.
The Art of Standing Strong
The way you hold yourself sends powerful signals, even if you're not saying a word. Grab people's attention with these tips from Janine Driver, president of the Body Language Institute in Washington, DC.
The more space you take up, the more gravitas you exude. In meetings, pop an elbow over the back of your chair to open up your body. At a party, rest one palm on a table or lean an outstretched arm against the wall.
The middle of the group is considered the power spot, so nab this position to be seen as important. You'll also get noticed if you place yourself in the center of a doorway while talking to others.
Work your angles
Addressing a crowd? Keep your head straight and steady to show authority. When you're in listening mode, cock your head to the left to appear more intelligent, or to the right to seem more attractive.
Try a power pose
Stand with feet a foot apart (a signature J.Lo move) and you'll come off as sexy and strong. Having less than 6 inches between your shoes can make you look, quite literally, like a pushover.