The path to recognition is paved with confidence

by | Jun 10, 2019 | Leadership

A road sweeper is one of the individuals nominated for and recognised in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Thomas Ardle, a 61-year-old street cleaner, received his British Empire Medal (BEM) for services to Liverpool, where he is known for his “great sense of humour and positive outlook”, for being “polite, courteous and hard-working” and regularly going above his duties, often picking up litter and cleaning graffiti in his spare time.

What does he have to say about it? “I didn’t believe it at first. It doesn’t happen to the likes of me.”

But what happens if you’re doing a great job, hoping someone will notice, but noone does? What if you want recognition, but you’re struggling to be seen and heard?

This is the reality for many of my clients, particularly women. Often, they don’t know what it will take to get to the next level and they’re afraid to ask the question. They may find themselves pipped to the post for promotion by “preferred” candidates. And the concept of self-promotion, aka “blowing their own trumpet”, is distasteful to them.

What’s more, the female clients I work with are often working in male-dominated environments in finance and technology where they find it difficult to make an impact, particularly with senior stakeholders. They either hold back from speaking up because they’re afraid of saying something stupid, or they find their contributions dismissed or talked over.

What’s going on?

The fascinating book The Confidence Code shares outputs from a number of research projects :

  • 50% of women experience self-doubt in their performance and careers compared with less than a third of men
  • Women talk less when they’re outnumbered. In one study, when women were in the minority, they spoke 75% less than the men did.
  • Men overestimate their abilities, on average around 30%, women underestimate theirs
  • How confident a woman feels in her ability to do something will affect the outcome either positively or negatively, irrespective of her ability.

Given that a psychologist at the University of California has demonstrated that confidence trumps competence  when it comes to an individual’s level of respect, prominence and influence in society, then no wonder many women in male-dominated environments find it difficult to make the impact they want and achieve the recognition they crave.

So what about you?

How do these findings marry up with your experience? How do you feel about the level of visibility and recognition you have in the organisation your work within? Are you finding it hard to realise your aspirations? I’d love to hear your thoughts at In the meantime, here are some questions to help you explore your own situation :

  • How do you want to be recognised and what will this give you?
  • How clear are you on what drives you, what you want and what your sweet spots are?
  • How confident are you in yourself? Where do you feel at your most confident? In what situations do you lack confidence?
  • Where do you find it challenging to communicate effectively? What is holding you back from expressing yourself? What wants to be said? What conversations do you need to have and with whom?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do drop me a line at

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Alison Reid is an experienced executive coach who helps new Directors lead with confidence and step-change their influence and impact. She works with them 1-1, empowering them to focus on what matters, communicate with impact and stay calm under pressure so they can lead themselves and others to great results. She's the author of Unleash Your Leadership : How to Worry Less and Achieve More. Download an extract or buy the book.

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