It's Not a Competence Issue, It's a Confidence Issue

It’s not a competence issue, it’s a confidence issue.

In my early 30s, I worked as regional vice president for government and public affairs for a rail carrier. I found out that I wasn’t the “type” of employee the CEO was used to dealing with. I was assigned to accompany him on a junket to Nashville, Tennessee, to lobby elected officials and business leaders to support a proposed service expansion. I was new to the rail industry, but not to Tennessee. I was raised in Memphis and knew the state well.

Using the standard briefing book to prepare my presentation, I flew to Washington to brief the CEO ahead of our trip. It was my first time meeting him, but he skipped all the pleasantries. Five minutes into my briefing, he stopped me and asked a very technical question about the railroad mapping system. It was beyond my knowledge and the briefing book protocol. When I couldn’t answer, he became irritated, got up and made a phone call. Within seconds, five men came into the room wearing hard hats with a replica of the railroad map from the 1700s. I was pushed to the edge of the room.

I left there panicked. I was headed to Nashville with the CEO the next day. I kept thinking, “How do I get this man to be OK with me, to give me a chance?”

After we arrived in Nashville, things went from bad to worse. He preferred to be briefed by a young, congressional male staffer over me. The whole day was facing me with a CEO who literally stopped talking to me!

I went into full-on panic mode until I heard a voice say, “Calm down. He’s got issues, and they have nothing to do with you. Go do your job.” Once I’d gathered my wits, I made up my mind to strut in my brilliance and own the day!”

In the meetings, I spoke confidently and was well received. I asked spot-on questions and made an impression on those quintessential legislators. (Like I said, I know Tennessee!) The CEO’s dismissive attitude undermined my confidence up until the point I was able to center myself, focus on what I knew, and find the strength of character not to buy into his reality.

What that lesson taught me is this: It’s not a competence issue, it’s a confidence issue. When we experience isolation, feel as if we don’t fit into the company culture or when our contributions and achievements are overlooked, it undermines our confidence and ability to perform. We become less comfortable with being our true selves.

These feelings are magnified when you’re “The Only” in the room. One minute you’re certain of your boss lady status, and the next you’re self-censoring and clamming up in meetings, doubting your capabilities and your worth. And then the dreaded-but-predictable happens: someone else shares YOUR great idea and gets all the credit! We don’t go for stretch opportunities; we self-impose an artificial high bar; and we wrestle with the Imposter Syndrome.

It’s not a competence issue. It’s a confidence issue.

Companies are beginning to understand that to compete in the global economy, they must get everyone’s ideas to the table in order to innovate. Creating cultures of equality and inclusiveness are key to that. We’ve got a long way to go and until we get there, here’s what I need you to do: have the courage to bring your true self to the table, especially when it’s uncomfortable. We’re at our best when we’re being our authentic, most confident selves.

This is why I’m hosting the sold-out Grit + Grace Day conference on Friday, March 22, and why I’m launching the Grit + Grace coaching website at g2coach.com. I know firsthand that the world has a way of wearing down our confidence. I want to make coaching you can trust more affordable and accessible to any woman at every stage of their career, so they can gain confidence and a game plan and remember that incompetence is the lie, it’s never been the real issue.