Building Confidence, Communication Skills, Deliver With Impact

How Effective Leaders Self-Promote Without Sounding Smug

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It’s not fair.

Gender discrimination is hard-baked into everyone despite their protestations. Subtle gender bias occurs in every meeting, in every work-based interaction –  filo pastry-like layers of discrimination that are so insidious you barely notice them creeping up on your psyche.

But they’re there.  

For years we’ve been working with talented, accomplished corporate women who consistently undervalue their abilities, and therefore are not overtly communicating their competence for career progression. It is a pattern. Women in the workforce have a tendency to shy away from beating their own drum, while their male counterparts have no such limitation.  

Meanwhile, we see male counterparts going for senior roles with less fear or introspection about their abilities.

This is exactly what happened to our client, Rebecca. Well-established in her career at 32, Rebecca found herself questioning her own abilities to go for a Director role, despite strong experience, proven leadership skills and a c-level sponsor actively encouraging her. Her direct report Robert, 41, had no such hesitation, despite a track record of average performance in both people and project management.

My challenge is to assert my authority and get things done without coming across as an aggressive pseudo-man,” says Rebecca. ”Someone told me that some of my peers think I’m arrogant. This was devastating to me. Being a younger woman in management is harder than it looks.”

On the other hand,” she continues, “being more accommodating and conciliatory can earn labels like ‘weak’, ‘lacking presence’ or ‘not assertive enough’.

The scenario rings true for all too many women, many of whom can cite situations where less qualified men landed positions that should have been theirs. And for many, it is because they didn’t have the confidence to apply, questioning their value in comparison to their confident colleagues.

So how can high-achieving women manage to gain enough confidence to authentically self-promote in a way that is aligned with their gender and beliefs? How can corporate women avoid being pipped to the post by a FIGJAM climber with more bluster than talent?

Glad you asked. Here are some of our top tips.

Competency trumps age and gender

The first thing to remember is that nothing beats sheer competence. Stop worrying about competing with the aggressive self-promoter. Let your achievements, competence and talent do the talking, because this is how the best reputations are built.

Softly, softly catch a monkey

If you commit to building your personal brand for the long-haul, you will be recognised for your work, and use this recognition to influence up, down and across your firm.

Communications coaching can help you focus on some of the skills that are essential for confident communication: your voice, your language of inclusivity and your presence.

Here’s how Rebecca did it.

The Voice: Low and Slow and Calm like Balm

The vocal quality that has most impact is a voice that is calm, reasonable and measured in pace and projection. Rebecca found herself speaking rapidly and in a high tone when under pressure. Robert was a particular trigger for her. She could hear her voice move into ‘defensive whine’ along with the upward inflection. Keeping her voice low and slow had immediate payback. Robert stopped needling her.

Inclusivity: There’s no I in team

‘What I want to talk about is something I think is very important. As I go through this I want you to think about opportunities and challenges. When I have finished going through the report I want you to ask questions… okay? Let’s start.”


“Today we will explore something that is urgent and important. As we walk through this please note down questions for later discussion… as we will see there are opportunities and challenges for us to consider. Are we ready?”

The language of inclusivity has cemented Rebecca’s role as a people leader and also conveyed her confidence. I-centred language points to insecurity.  

Stand Tall – Sit Tall

Presence is a physical and energetic thing. Rebecca would ‘show’ her anxiety and tension by folding herself in her chair or standing with a hip stuck out and an S posture. After watching the TED Talk by Amy Cuddy Rebecca literally changed how she showed up physically in her meetings, conversations and presentations.

It was astounding what a difference this made,” she told us. “It took several weeks of conscious practice however, I now have no fear of senior partners and the like.

What will you do?

Group or one-to-one training or coaching work helps to develop leadership and communication skills.  It’s a combination of knowledge, skill and being that you can develop with a great coach – you develop into the leader you’d like to be.

I was unconscious of the habits and behaviour I was adopting to compensate for my uncertainty, self-doubt and anxiety, truth be told,” Rebecca said in a recent email. “It’s about working on practical aspects of my communication that I have control over that makes the difference.

If you want to discover how you can own your confidence and rise amongst the ranks join us at the next Mastering Communication program.


The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their leadership skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.

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