Who Am I and Why Am I Here? – Authentic Confidence

“It’s not who you are that holds you back, it’s who you think you are not.”

~ Denis Waitley

With her book, Lean-In, Sheryl Sandberg got folks talking about women and leadership. And, in more recent months, the conversations have moved beyond the initial debate her book prompted. 

The conversation continued at last week’s National Association for Law Placement’s[1] (NALP) 2015 Annual Education Conference in Chicago where I attended a fascinating session on women’s leadership and how to develop and champion female professionals.[2]

The panelists began the conversation by distinguishing leadership qualities (e.g. inspiring, confident, knowledgeable, positive, motivated etc.) vs. leadership positions (e.g. Chief/Director, Board member, Committee chair, Sub-committee chair etc.) with the former being infinite and growing. They also noted that great leadership is not necessarily defined by a position or title as we can each exemplify leadership through qualities we possess.

Much of the session focused on the confidence gap – the idea that the lack of confidence is the dominating factor that holds women back in the workforce. This idea has received widespread attention in the aftermath of Katty Kay and Claire Shipman’s book, The Confidence Code, which I look forward to reading! Through interviews and research, Kay and Shipman come to the conclusion that the lack of authentic confidence is a key component to what’s holding women back.  

I think key points in Shipman’s comments in the video above are that confidence doesn’t always look the same in women as it does in men and that it’s important for women to maintain authenticity when expressing confidence in the workplace.

So, what can we do to support women in discovering authentic confidence and, thereby, help to close the confidence gap?  

  1. Recognize there is no “one size fits all” to leadership style and confidence. In their book, Kay and Shipman discuss the need for diversity of confidence and, consequently, diversity of style. Shipman states, “We all think of confidence in this kind of Mad Men-style bravado – speaking up first, ‘I’m going to do this; I’ll handle that.’ That may just be male behavior. That might not be the way confidence will look in a confident woman. And understanding that there has to be an authenticity to our confidence is very important and powerful.”
  2. Find role models. Whether you’re a law student or a practicing attorney, start identifying women who embody a style of leadership and communicate the kind of authentic confidence you aspire to have.
  3. Form a posse. Create your own “posse” of people – both men and women - who can help promote you and you, in turn, then do the same for them. Given that women often have difficulty promoting themselves, find cheerleaders who will do this for you. Your “posse” can be invaluable for internal marketing and external networking.   
  4. Ask mentors, coaches, and colleagues for feedback.

     “Take criticism seriously, not personally.”

    ~ Hillary Rodham Clinton

  5. Help women get accustomed to failure. Women tend to take failure seriously and often as a reflection of their worth as a person. However, in the business/techie world, failure means you’ve been willing to try - to take a risk - and you learn from the experience. “Failing fast” – throwing together a bunch of ideas and then identifying which ones work and which ones don’t – is valued. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs are those who have failed time and time again. We can help women get accustomed to failure by creating a brainstorming culture that promotes the free offering of suggestions without judgment - where risk taking and learning are valued.
  6. Embrace positive thinking. There is a wealth of research and information about the value of positive psychology, an area of study pioneered by Martin Seligman. The premise of positive psychology is that optimistic people are generally happier and more successful. By recognizing our own negative thoughts and arguing against them, we can become more lastingly optimistic…and confident.
  7. Be mindful of how much you apologize and, if it’s unwarranted, don’t be sorry! Have you ever noticed how much you apologize? Do you say “sorry” when you haven’t done anything wrong? I’ve been inclined to spend a day being mindful of my apologies because I know I do this but, honestly, I’m a bit nervous about what that exercise might reveal. Surprisingly, I’ve noticed my two-year old daughter do this, and I’ll immediately tell her she doesn’t need to say sorry when she hasn’t made a mistake or done anything wrong. 
  8. Build GRIT. Grit is defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”[3] In 2012, a study revealed that grit and growth mindset are two traits common among highly successful women lawyers. As a result, the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Commission on Women in the Profession created The Grit Project Toolkit to provide bar associations, law firms, corporate legal departments, and women attorneys with the resources to teach and learn these traits. Let’s support our women friends and colleagues in being grittier!  

  9. Leave the comfort zone. Risk can take many forms and can be in done in big and small ways. For me, writing this blog is a perfect example of me leaving my comfort zone. I’m passionate about this series and was excited to learn that I’d been selected to serve as a 2015 Writer-in-Residence, but I was nervous (and continue to be each time I post!). But, I’m growing and learning! I’ve even received personal messages from folks who have been positively impacted by one of my posts.   

  10. Ask for what you want and need. In their book, Women Don’t Ask, Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever explore the reasons women rarely ask for what they need, want, and deserve. They focus on this issue in the context of salary negotiation and bring to light the profound impact this has on a woman’s short and long-term career path. Not only should we speak up, we should do so with authentic confidence!

Until my next post,



[i] NALP is an association of over 2,500 legal career professionals who advise law students, lawyers, law offices, and law schools throughout the country

[ii] Many of the insights shared in this blog post are from that presentation, which was titled “Moving Beyond the Lean In Debate: Practical Ways to Uncover the Natural Leaders in Your Female Lawyers, Students and Staff” that was moderated by Michele Ward (Sr. Manager Attorney Resources & Recruitment, Winston & Strawn LLP) and featured Jennifer Greiner (President, Greiner Consulting), Paula Holderman (Chief Attorney Development Officer, Winston & Strawn LLP), and Dana Morris (Asst. Dean for Career Development, University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law). I thank them for sharing their insights and experiences at this year's NALP Annual Education Conference.

[iii] http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/marketing/women/grit_brochure.authcheckdam.pdf

Write a comment

Please login to comment

Remember Me

Become a Member

FREE online community for women in the legal profession.



Subscribe to receive regular updates, news, and events from Ms. JD.

Connect with us

Follow or subscribe