You have no doubt heard the statistics commonly cited from the Hewlett-Packard survey that men apply for a job when they meet only 60% of the qualifications, but women apply only if they meet 100% of them. The conclusion from these figures is that the lack of women in senior leadership positions is due to their lack of confidence and belief in their abilities. In my experience, it does seem that many women doubt or underestimate their capacity, which often results in them failing to take their place at the leadership table. Instead, the table continues to be dominated by men who may, or may not, be qualified for their positions. What’s especially frustrating about this is that research shows that female leaders excel in key leadership competencies and are perceived to be more effective than men in many areas. Yet despite this, women are often led to believe that, if they want to succeed in leadership, they need certain ‘male’ attributes and lack of these often holds them back.
So, what can be done to increase the confidence of women?
Positive psychology is a scientific approach to studying human thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, with a focus on strengths instead of weaknesses. American psychologist Donald Clifton, considered the ‘grandfather’ of positive psychology, contended that they key to humans being their best selves was to focus not on ‘fixing’ their weakness, but rather on growing and strengthening their natural and innate talents.
Instead of being restrained by what we lack, we would do well to turn our attention to our God-given gifts and to developing these. In Matthew 25:14-25, the parable of the talents reminds us that each one of us has been given abilities that God expects us to use and develop, not bury in the ground. Furthermore, God promises that when we do use our talents productively, we can expect them to increase and multiply.
So, rather than trying to transform ourselves into someone different or someone who we can never successfully be, we can make the greatest contribution by focusing on and enhancing who we already are. Gallup studies indicate that people who have the opportunity to focus on their strengths every day are six times as likely to be engaged in their jobs and more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life in general. Focusing on strengths increases confidence, career satisfaction, engagement in work, productivity, and general happiness.
Clifton devoted much of his life to researching and developing ways to help people maximize their potential: to understand not only who they are, but who they can become. His work led him to invent the CliftonStrengths assessment, a useful tool to help people to discover their natural talents, i.e. what they do best. Women looking for practical ways to identify their underlying talents and to develop these into areas of mastery, might find this relatively inexpensive assessment a great place to start and the personalized report which it produces a great tool for stimulating self-reflection. The website also includes a myriad of other supporting resources and articles.
High achievers and successful leaders excel because they fully develop and apply their strengths. They create ways to capitalize on their strengths in new situations and find ways to apply their strengths to the tasks they are undertaking. They also know the strengths of those around them and draw on these.
It is so easy to look at others and feel inadequate or to feel envious of gifts we don’t have. It is easy to write ourselves off. As women, it seems many of us have been conditioned to focus on the perceived missing 40%. However, this is not the lens through which we should be viewing ourselves. The parable of the talents reminds us that we ought to take seriously the expectation that we fully develop, utilize and multiply what God has given us. We should understand and celebrate who God has created us to be. We are called to be good servants who are faithful with what has been placed in our hands. We should not be afraid to take risks and we certainly should not be afraid to excel. We should take joy and delight in cultivating our unique capacity and enjoy the wonder of seeing what God can do in and through us.