Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Executives Dirty Little Secret

"...Skip the idea that all around you are in their underwear..."

I suppose in a way the title I chose for this article is a bit of a misnomer, as the "Dirty Little Secret" applies to all of us, from those just entering the workforce to senior executives (Even Carol Neal - Chief Auditor of the Bank of Montreal confessed to this secret).

But, taking time to admit this dirty little secret is a key step to having confidence in your present role, and assist in moving up the ranks, if this is a part of your career ambition.

We have all attended meetings, either a formal boardroom setting, or a more casual exchange of information with senior staff.. and we have all had that feeling in the pit of our stomach that we are not completely prepared for the discussion, or that we do not know near as much as what is expected of us to know. There is the anxiety of being "discovered" as being less than suited for our present function. We worry that a topic will come up that we need to discuss that we are less than an expert on.

We sit in these meetings, with that grade six feeling of the teacher asking us a question that we do not know the answer to and being embarrassed and chastised by the teacher. We look around the other attendees of the meeting and clearly they are all qualified for their roles, they are a wealth of information and have a complete understanding of the meeting topics.

I have spoken to many peers about this dirty secret, and almost like removing albatrosses from around their necks, each and every one, experiences these same insecurities. In meetings, alone in their office or workplace, at home pondering work or standing in front of a mirror. Men, women, young, old, senior managers to retail cashiers - we all suffer insecurities about the ability to do our jobs to the expectation of the rest of the organization.

This realization is a powerful step in fact of becoming much better at your role, and building confidence in your abilities. Simply put, we all must embrace the fact that if you were truly incompetent, and unprepared to do our jobs we would not be in that job. And a close second for significant realization, is that as you look around that meeting or that boardroom - each and every participant is hiding this dirty secret.

So how does one overcome this insecurity and self doubt - you cant, and you wont.. so don't try. The confidence comes with the acceptance that you are in your role for a reason, it is what you DO know; what you don't know is irrelevant. Of course, excelling at work is being motivated to be constantly learning, to fill those gaps in your ability, but it is human nature to continue to focus on new gaps in our knowledge, and drain our confidence based on those.

We see in our business interactions, leaders, peers that exude confidence and make the most difficult decisions without pause. These people are comfortable in their shortcoming, are motivated to learn what is required to make these decisions, and very often are very forthcoming in vocalizing areas that they are weak in. It is only us, internally, that confessing shortcomings appears as a weakness, When we hear it from others, we don't (or should not) judge them on this.. we just see it as an area that they will "go and find out and return with answers.

In grade school, I expect we all were told when forced with the daunting task of public speaking, to imagine the audience all sitting wearing only their underwear. A truer lesson could not be expressed. Skip the idea that all around you are in their underwear, focus on at that moment they all are listening to your words worried that they themselves do not have the knowledge you have, and lack confidence in their ability to participate. You ARE an expert in the area you speak, or you would not be speaking.

To excel? Embrace your insecurities as human, be confident in what you do know, strive to learn what you don't and never expect you will be an expert of all aspects of your role.. otherwise you will blend into the crowd, and never be looked at for advancement. It is a strong message to speak out loud to your peers or superiors "I don't know, but I will find out:"

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