Why do women struggle with saying 'I'?

This week on the Final Five debate, Anderson Cooper of CNN interviewed Hillary Clinton on a range of issues from foreign policy to her own struggles on the campaign trail. At the end of the interview Anderson asked Hillary to further explain her comment that campaigning doesn’t come natural to her. She answered that it partly seems harder for women. In her case, she went from someone who supported others to someone in the direct limelight.  She said moving from he/she to I/me was not an easy shift to make.

In the work I do with females I see discomfort and sometimes downright disdain for making the shift from we/team to I/me. Most often it manifests in the struggle to take credit for accomplishments or share them proactively with managers or senior leaders. This critical skill of self-advocacy though, may be the exact thing holding you back.

Recently I was coaching a brilliant woman who is up for Partner. She asked if I would help her prepare for her pitch presentation. As we dove into our conversation, I soon realized her biggest barrier was her own mindset. Her track record of results was incredible and the content of her presentation spot on.  I realized that what’s really standing in the way is her tentativeness to speak in the ‘I’. 

If you don’t tell people about the great things you’ve done and why they should bet on you, how will they ever know? This is a common issue. I hear many women say that their results speak for themselves. But they don’t. 

Results are voiceless; mute; unable to speak. You must advocate for those results – for your results – for you.

There is of course many times when we need to speak in the ‘we’, to use collaborative language, and to share success with others. But often we have only one shot to get that job, to get that promotion, or to get that stretch assignment.  If the I/me issue is something you struggle with, try to reframe the talk track in your head.

In the world of leadership there is an ‘I’ in team.

You know the old saying, there is no ‘I’ in team? Well that saying was meant to address the annoying team members who weren’t able to play nice with others.  In today’s organizations there is unequivocally a shortage of individuals who can create sustainable business results through high performing teams. If you are a leader that can get results through others, build talent, and create loyal followers, then you did that. Believe me, the capability is in high demand. Claim it, think it, and say it.  You can of course still use the word team as you’re describing your accomplishments.  But be sure that you are making it clear what you did and what you led.

Pride and confidence doesn’t equal bragging.

When I coach women on this issue of self-advocacy the majority are genuinely proud of their accomplishments. Pride is an internal feeling; an emotion related to self-worth, and it’s critical to feeling confident in our successes.  Something, however, gets in the way when women need to verbalize their pride.  I’ve heard countless women say that sharing their accomplishments feels like bragging. By definition, to brag is to speak with exaggeration and excessive pride. I wouldn’t advocate anyone to do that.  The key to your delivery is balance; what I refer to as confident authenticity.  You might even try using those words - “I’m proud of the track record of results I have accomplished and am confident that I will add the same value in this opportunity.”  Delivered in the right tone it comes across as confident, authentic and humble – the lethal combination of traits required of leaders today.

Whether it’s running for President, pitching to become Partner, or asking for that plum project, you need to get comfortable with confidently sharing your accomplishments. I would argue that today more than ever women need to claim ‘me’; celebrate ‘myself’, and proffer the ‘I’ with unapologetic abandon.