First, draw on your insecurities to project an air of confidence. Fastidious preparation dispels the jitters about a particular presentation or project. Anticipate questions and have others critique your thinking before a big meeting. Stop apologizing for your opinions—just make sure that they are well researched and based in fact. Get rid of verbal cues of self-doubt like, “I could be wrong about this, but….” Take the floor and hold it when it should be your turn to speak. Don’t get shouted down when you worked hard to get to the table. However, don’t let go of the insecurity that drives you to be thoroughly prepared. An air of confidence is essential, but cockiness leads to a lack of discipline that is fatal.
Second, push yourself outside your zone of comfort. Earlier in my career, I was resisting an opportunity to make a lateral move to manage the insurance law group within the legal department. A mentor urged me to do it, counseling that the first word in the General Counsel title is “general.” Later, when I was asked to leave the legal department to head the compliance department, I was again dragging my feet, protesting that I was trained to practice law and that I should therefore practice law.
Once again, I got wise advice to make the move since I would learn all of the operational skills necessary to run a department—better preparing me to run the legal department. Recently, I was asked to take on responsibility for human resources, corporate communications, governmental affairs, facilities and governance. I leapt at the chance because experience has taught me that you have to stretch to advance and grow.