Here are five tips for getting comfortable wearing the CEO hat.
Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, the idea of starting my own business at age 33was already part of my DNA. Confidently stepping into the role of CEO was where thereal challenge began.
Until 12 years ago, I had spent my career in traditional corporate environments, workingmy way up the ranks. Before I started my firm ClearEdge Marketing , I was faced with alife-changing choice: Move to Atlanta, far away from friends and family to keep my job,or stay in Chicago and take a different path. The potential for the role I currently heldwas immense. I was one of the youngest on the executive team,managing marketing for a $1-billion division of a more than $3-billion company. Yet, Iknew in my gut it was time to try something new (and stay put where I had created a lifeand could be close to family), which ultimately led to starting my own company. With afew of my incredible former colleagues by my side, I took the plunge as a new businessowner and CEO.
That's when impostor syndrome struck.
I quickly learned that being a female leader comes with a unique set of hurdles. Sure,there were the financial pressures, operational challenges and long hours everyentrepreneur faces. But, as a woman, I was dealing with something entirely different: Iwas having a tough time seeing myself as a CEO. I had held leadership positionsbefore, but none where I was the chief executive, solely responsible for the success orfailure of a business and other people's livelihoods.
I faced impostor syndrome, second-guessing myself and wondering if I were truly cutout to be at the top. People would make comments to me early on like, "Oh how cute,you have your own company." It got to me. In talking to other women CEOs, I learnedthat impostor syndrome is strikingly common among female business owners, despiteoverwhelming evidence to the contrary.
You can't be what you can't see.
Part of the issue is representation. Simply put, there are more men than women inleadership roles, and women are much less likely to "see" other women at the top. A2018 study from The New York Times, its Glass Ceiling Index, reveals some unsettlingnumbers about the representation of high ranking women. For example, there are moreFortune 500 chief executives named James than there are chief executives who arewomen.
Pervasive double standards also come into play. Man or woman, you need to beassertive and dominant to be seen as a leader. Women have long been penalized forthis behavior, though, making it that much more difficult to wear the CEO hat.Five things you can start doing now to wear the CEO hat more confidently:
1. Consciously make the decision to stop second-guessing. Tell yourself, "You areenough." As women, we need to remind ourselves that the skills we bring to the tablegot us this far. My dad would always tell me to look in the mirror and make sure I lovedthe person looking back; to always believe in myself.
2. Ask for help and expand your network. Because the VC and startup ecosystem istypically dominated by men, most women don't have the same wide networks forintroductions and counsel as men do. Women leaders have the power to change that bymaking time daily to network, just as we do for exercising or checking email. Men aremore likely to ask things of other people, and women need to get more comfortabledoing the same.
3. "Fake it until you become it." In Harvard University professor Amy Cuddy's TED talkon nonverbal communication, she explains how the role of body language affectsconfidence levels. I regularly take my "power pose," hands on hips, head held high, tophysically project I am meant to lead and force my mind to believe it. Next time you'refeeling inadequate as CEO, strike a power pose and tell yourself, "I belong here."
4. Try not to compare yourself to others. The old adage "keeping up with the Joneses"isn't just a metaphor for consumerism. It applies to us as female CEOs as well. It's easyto get wrapped up in how much more successful other entrepreneurs are, or how mucheasier their path to the top was than yours. Instead, choose to be inspired by otherswho've made great strides and focus on your strengths.
5. Recognize the power you have to shape future generations. I believe that one of themost important responsibilities of female CEOs is to help the next generation of womenleaders. This in itself helps me to wear the CEO hat more confidently becauseI know what I'm doing is far more important than just leading a business. When an up-and-coming female leader needs advice, I'm thrilled to offer my insights. Whensomeone needs me to make an introduction, I happily tap into the wide network I'vebuilt. Knowing you have the influence to inspire other female leaders is even furtherproof that you're meant to be a CEO.
Although I don't know or work with them directly, women like Melinda Gates, SaraBlakely, Wendy Kopp and Katrina Lake are changing the image of what a CEO lookslike. Through more representation -- young women actually seeing other women rise theranks -- strong networking and even more female VCs and investors, the momentumwill continue to shift toward more women in these roles. As this becomes moreingrained, we'll begin to feel less like impostors and more confidently wear the CEO hat.