A while back I ran a college application challenge and I dared you to share your answers with me. I was thrilled by the veritable buffet of responses I got — the story I’m about to share caught my attention because it’s so aligned with everything I keep sharing with you about confidence. (Thanks, CK, for agreeing to share your story!)
“Six years ago, my boss retired. I’d worked for her for 1.5 years at one job and 12 years at the current one. She was my mentor, my advocate, my biggest fan, my close friend, my confidant, and she embodied so much of what and how I wanted to be.
When she finally announced her plans to retire with her boss, she insisted that I be involved in the interview process for her replacement. Her boss completely agreed and ensured I’d get to speak with the top candidates.
I was known as a good hiring manager, someone who can read people well and get information out of interviewees in a way others couldn’t. I spent a lot of time preparing to draw relevant insights from the candidates who could potentially be my next boss. And then they all turned out to be awful.
Awful is a strong word. It surprised me to feel that way since I’d walked into each interview with an open mind and a positive attitude. I got limp handshakes, no eye contact, incomplete answers. There was no passion expressed for what they do, no love for the job they were interviewing for, no interest in me, and no questions about me, the team or the company. Typically, I’d cut those conversations short, but knowing what was at stake, I pressed on and dug deep, leading them onto topics that were on point. Still, I walked away with nothing good to say about any of them.
The rest of the interviewers were senior to me, and so when the team convened to discuss the candidates, I held back. Despite my own experience and age, I felt inclined to defer to the group mentality even if their opinions didn’t align with mine.
As it turned out, only one person shared my views. There was a definite air of anxiety that the interviewing team wouldn’t be able to find anyone better to fill the role. They were desperate to talk themselves out of doubt, to exaggerate what little positives they saw and make someone an offer. Not one part of that sat well with me.
The HR person visually coached me to take a deep breath and not speak up. I found out later that she felt she couldn’t weigh in with assessments or strong opinions of her own either. And the manufactured top choice was hired.
After that, I did my best to keep an open mind. For 10-months I worked tirelessly to be a good team member and employee. At the end of those 10-months, I went to HR defeated, deflated, doubtful, and feeling dumb, and then I left the company I’d loved so much. It broke my heart.
It took a few years to understand what had happened and what I could’ve done differently. Here’s what I now know.
First, I needed to speak up. I am 100% in tune with people. I can tell if they have integrity. I can spot if they work well with others and know what they’re talking about. If I’m feeling unsettled, it’s not unfounded. By not speaking up, I missed several opportunities to improve the situation for myself, my team and the company.
Second, I needed to ask more questions. When people are talking themselves into a decision or solution, it’s in everyone’s best interest for me to ask WHY (like a million times). ‘Tell me more… what about that will be so great… how does that align with our goals/values…’
Third, I’d been bullied. By HR to keep my mouth shut, by senior leaders who were trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole and by the person I eventually reported to.
I needed to recognize when someone’s discounting me and expecting me to bow to their every whim—and then say something about it.
Lastly, I needed to trust my gut. Things transpired after my departure that underscored the negative stuff and the red flags I saw even before the new person started. I needed to trust myself far more than I did. My track record was solid in so many aspects of my career, and I lost sight of that at the first sign that someone influential doubted me.
I own my mistakes, missteps, and misjudgments. I’ve talked about them with my mentor, and I keep learning from them.
Reflecting on this experience is a reminder for me to speak up, stay curious, stand up, and hold on to my confidence more tightly.”
I hear this heartbreaking story more times than I’d like to count. I know it’s a journey. I get that breaking up with a role, or a team, or a situation is hard. This confidence in yourself thing can be crushingly hard. Still, tap into your inner voice, summon your inner cheerleader and please, please remind yourself that you have this. I know you do.