A high flyers guide to confidence and learning to say no

I had the opportunity this week to attend a lunch hosted by The Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce.  I enjoy their ‘Woman in Business’ series and this month was no exception.  Professor Heather McGregor, Executive Dean of Edinburgh Business School, was the speaker yesterday and what a joy she was to listen to.  Her current title belies her illustrious career, and I was amazed at how much she has achieved in addition to being happily married and bringing up three children (affectionately known as cost centres 1, 2 and 3).  She is also a qualified pilot and regularly flies in various parts of the world.  She has held many high powered positions in finance, was a regular columnist for the Financial Times and has also been a passenger in Corcorde.  Not to mention having her own TV show. There were many takeaways for me, and I was particularly interested in her thoughts around confidence which is important to my clients and me.

What would you see if you could meet yourself?

After being introduced, Prof McGregor quipped that it would be great if she ‘could meet herself’ – the introduction she received before taking the floor was full of accolades and accomplishment.  Her comment captured my imagination.  As individuals, it is often difficult for us to see our true value: the strengths that only we possess.  We so easily overlook our unique gifts and talents.  Instead, we enviously admire what we see in others.  If you could stand back and admire what you see in yourself, what would you honestly see?   When I work on this with clients, they often feel awkward at the thought of this.  They claim it makes them feel like they’re arrogant or self-centred.  The funny thing is though; it’s usually those same people who come to me for help with confidence.  It often strikes me that if we can’t stand in our true value and own the things that we are good at, then how will we ever feel confident. Confidence is, in part, recognising the value and contribution we make and believing it to be important.

The pain of saying no only lasts a few seconds

The other sound bite that resonated with me yesterday was learning to say no.  I’ve always found this difficult, and I would say it’s still a work in progress for me.  What I took away from yesterday was, saying no is only painful for a few seconds.  The benefits though can last a lifetime.   A challenge I sometimes give my clients is to practice saying no.  If I’m being naughty then I’ll ask them to say no 30 times in one week.  My clients usually meet this request with horror.  When we debrief in the following session, however, even if the challenge hasn’t been met, there are always great learning and aha moments that have helped the client move forward. We often have to make hard choices in life.  You have the power to be conscious and deliberate about the choices you make based on the evidence available to you.  For me, a significant part of conscious choice is also having clarity about what is intrinsically important.  When you have a clarity of vision, decisions are much easier.

Human Capital

Prof McGregor also talked about the importance of building your human capital.  This is about continuing to develop your skills beyond your workplace and circle of friends.  She has performed a solo show at the Edinburgh Festival and off-Broadway.  She also took flying lessons and is a licensed pilot.  None of this was part of her role; however, it was important to her to continue to invest in herself.  She commented that when she is flying it’s one of the rare moments where she is forced to empty her mind and only focus on flying the plane.  She said she finds this to be extremely calming and therapeutic. What are you doing to increase your human capital?

What can we learn from flying that can improve our confidence?

My three biggest takeaways from yesterday were from Prof McGregor’s book ‘Career Advice for Ambitious Women’:

  • Runway – have a path in front of you so it’s clear where you are going
  • Fuel in the tank – be clear about the skills and experience you have
  • Altitude – get enough height to make the right decision

What would this look like in your world?



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