When we ask senior leaders about their careers and how they got there, they often recall a critical junction at which they said yes when they really wanted to say no. They said yes to an offer or opportunity that, while aligned to their long-term ambition, held self-imposed fears that it was way out of their comfort zone or they weren’t ‘skilled enough’ alongside the concerns that it was too much on their support networks and more.
In some cases, saying no would have been the best decision. But more often than not, those junctions were in fact the pivotal moments when they embraced the fear and backed themselves to take a risk. Saying ‘yes’ marked a step change in their career, mindset and learning, opened a breadth of future opportunities.
Take Sarah* for example. She’s a capable, experienced and accomplished Senior Executive who was approached by her outgoing CEO to take over his role. Yet on being presented with this significant opportunity she instinctively turned it down.
To an outsider, she is the perfect package and the company felt she was the standout candidate. So why was her default no instead of yes?
Sarah is not alone. We see ambition, huge potential and capability with the talented people we work with. Yet, the personal obstacles of trepidation, exhaustion, fear of failure and self-doubt can get in the way of progression and growth. This is aside from the caring challenges, organisational barriers and societal biases that are already in place.
So when it comes to confidence and performance, how can we stay motivated and energised to drive our career, embrace growth and able to say yes more often to opportunities? It can be hard and challenging but a few things can make a difference.
Embrace your ambition
A rewarding part of our work is seeing the impact mentors and coaches have on the career progression and growth of talented men and women. In particular, the effect of affirmation and encouragement in helping them dream big, embrace this ambition and identify the steps needed to achieve it.
There is power in the ability to articulate these goals. In fact, writing them down increases the chance of success by 40% while sharing goals with others who keep you accountable gives you an even greater chance of success.
From there, know your strengths and motivations behind your ambitions. Building self-awareness increases confidence by gaining a deeper understanding of what drives you, how you perform at your best and the value you bring in your role, your organisation and to your customers. Identify your blind spots too. We all have ingrained behaviours that surface when we are stressed or anxious, and these have the potential to derail both our progress and performance. Recognising the impact of these behaviours and soliciting feedback empowers you to mitigate risk and grow confidence from understanding.
Seeing, and seizing, the opportunities
Saying yes to new opportunities can come in a range of forms.
Opportunities may be in the form of a promotion, seat on a working committee, a new secondment, a sideways career move or an advocacy role. It can also be embracing the opportunity to lead change from where you are now, seeing ways to improve processes, optimise resources and drive innovation.
To identify and seize the opportunities, use your trusted relationships and strategic networks who will act as sounding boards, sponsors, your cheer squad and scouts.
There will always be barriers to navigate when progressing your career but using trusted colleagues and advisors will help you focus on what matters and back yourself to achieve your goals.
Set yourself up for success
Leadership transitions require a mindset shift but you don’t have to go it alone. Taking on a new position takes courage, drive and ability to adapt. It requires strategic thinking, decision making and clarity of expectations and core priorities.
It also takes collaboration and great teams. In saying yes, what conversations do you need to have with your manager, peers and team to allow you to achieve your goals and empower others? What other structures do you need to have in place at home or in your personal life to provide the support and help you need for success?
As this month’s HBR The Leap to Leader article cites: “It’s tempting to shoulder everything yourself. After all, you probably got to where you are in part because of a strong sense of ownership and accountability. But taking on every challenge isn’t leadership—and people usually want to pitch in. One of the most important demonstrations of leadership is to reach out and ask for help.”
In fact, some self-doubt and hesitation can be a strength in transition. Not having all the answers and having to ask for help demonstrates vulnerability and authenticity that builds trust. It can also drive curiosity, active listening and a growth mindset. However when overplayed, fear of failure can lead to delayed decisions, perfectionism and uncertainty. Building great teams around you alongside strategies to calm the inner critic helps keep the emotions in check and smooth the transition.
Ultimately, saying yes to a new opportunity hinges on the courage to try, good people around you and a growth mindset.
To quote our Founder Wendy McCarthy AO, “if somebody believes in you and offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes – then worry about the rest later!”
New opportunities offer a chance to lean into something challenging, learn more about yourself and gain confidence in a way that sitting on the sidelines won’t. And saying yes is a tool with which to pave the way for future generations of leaders.