Coaching's Role in Enabling Professional Women
“Now that I recognize where my self-doubt comes from, I don’t let it control my actions. I have the power to take action despite my fear.”
“I have become less dependent on what other people say and instead look for validation internally. It’s like I have become my own best friend.”
I received these comments from professional women after a year-long coaching relationship. At the end of the coaching program, rolled-out as a part of the company’s commitment to achieving a gender-balanced workforce, the participants were asked to identify the areas where coaching had been most beneficial. The top three of those areas were:
- “Recognizing what prevents me from achieving my full potential.”
- “Developing empowering strategies for achieving my career aspirations.”
- “Becoming more resilient.”
These three areas might look like they have nothing in common. But what contributed to the improvement in all three areas was each client’s work on identifying the source of self-doubt.
Despite the structural and cultural challenges women face in the workplace, women have significant power to build personal strategies for self-empowerment and how to step into their professional and personal vision. Learning to manage your fear is the starting point.
Fear can be useful – the rational kind keeps us from a chasing lion; fear based in survival. But that fear is different from irrational fear, which is fed by doubt. This kind of fear blocks our growth, prevents us from stepping up in our professional and overall vision of our lives.
How can coaching help?
If you or your client expect to be free from fear, you will be disappointed. In my experience, fear will hardly ever go away. It’s part of being human. But you can act despite fear. This is what I call courage.
Courage can be developed with three steps:
- Facing fear
- Befriending fear
- Activating the hero within
1. Facing Fear
When clients reflect on the stories they tell themselves, they can see the difference between the facts and illusion. Naming a fear and recognizing it takes away some of its power. By doing so, fear stops being treated as truth and is seen for the illusion it is.
The most common types of fear I’ve seen clients recognize through coaching conversations are:
- Fear of success
Often overlooked but very common, this fear is about the consequences of success. Success makes you more visible and, as a result, more vulnerable. The expectations for continued success are higher, making women assume there is no time to rest, no forgiveness for mistakes, no room for weakness. Fear of success is often about anticipating how other people will react to your triumph. It can be equally as paralyzing as the fear of failure. You choose to avoid success rather than face the negativity.
- Fear of other people’s opinion
I met many women who had been stuck for too long in careers they didn’t like, relationships they didn’t value or settling with life choices that didn’t fulfil them. All of them were delaying their decisions because they worried about being judged. Women have a strong urge to respect inherited social norms, worrying about what other people think of their choices. We all care to a certain extent about what other people think of us, but excessive worrying can become one of the greatest obstacles to our growth and progress.
- Fear of disappointment
I meet women so afraid of disappointment that they fail even to dream. One client said to me: “If I aim too high, I get my hopes up. I don’t want to go through the pain and, at the end, be a loser.” Many women recognized that the greatest disappointment only occurs if they give up. When you are committed to your deepest desire and career vision, there is no giving up.
The list of possible fears is much longer: fear of being exposed as an “imposter”, fear of saying the wrong thing, making the wrong decision or fear of growing responsibilities.
2. Befriending fear
Resisting fear can only strengthen it. When clients find their strategies to befriend their fear, it becomes a source of valuable insight.
After helping a client recognize their fear, the next questions you may ask are:
- What is your fear teaching you?
- How can you dance pleasantly with your fear?
- How can your fear help you grow and push you beyond your comfort zone?
- What would you lose if you never befriended your fear?
This exploration helps clients to understand their fear, sit with it and embrace “growth fear” instead of becoming paralyzed by it.
3. Activating the hero within
Coaching helps women take the steps needed to embrace their inner power.
The experiences and circumstances that push women through their fears lead them to discover unimagined internal strength. In my experience, they’ll start to:
- Rely on inner wisdom
- Seek validation internally
- Filter criticism
When clients develop strategies to act despite fear, they become courageous and open to limitless possibilities. As they push through discomfort, they become more resilient on their journey to professional and personal fulfilment.
One last, personal note – ironically, the biggest fear I personally encounter in coaching conversations (and one of my greatest fears) is the fear of not leaving your mark on the world. Coaching can help everyone, not only women, handle self-doubt and grow into a courageous leader who pushes through fear and makes a significant positive difference.