This morning, I was on the phone with one of the most dynamic women I’ve ever met. We were talking about a joint venture based on her initial success with clients of a particular product she launched. She then uttered the words that I’ve heard time and time again from women, including myself:

“I’m just not sure that I’m credible enough yet to lead this. Have I done enough in the industry to show that I’m the right person to do it?”

And that, my friends, is the key to what holds us back. While it’s a generalization, of course, it’s one that I’ve seen throughout my career. Women remain steadily focused on competence, while men are focused on confidence. When offered an opportunity, we women wonder: ,”Am I good enough? Do I deserve this? Do I have enough expertise in this area?” While men, when offered that same opportunity, tend to jump up and volunteer — even when they don’t know what they’re talking about. They say yes first, and figure it out later.

Competence is an amazing and necessary thing. But, as you grow in your career, ask yourself if you’ve worked as hard on your confidence as you have on your competence. Granted, there’s no MBA in “confidence,” but it is a skill that most certainly can be taught.

Here are a few ways to build up your confidence:

1. Set a MVC metric.
Knowledge is key, but we often hide behind needing to “know more” before we act. What is the minimal amount of competence that you need on a subject before you can push forward? Figure out the Minimum Viable Competence (MVC) needed — then go get that. You can (and should) continue to learn, of course, but once you have MVC, it’s time to go for it.

2. Ask for feedback.
Look for people who are invested in you and ask them what it is about you that makes you great. It’s not fishing for compliments; it’s building your tolerance for hearing great things about yourself without cringing. Even better? Also ask for areas of improvement. Work on those, but don’t stop pushing forward as you’re doing that hard work. Learning how to take constructive feedback (both positive and negative) is vital.

3. Dream big.
Imagine what your life and career would be like if nothing was holding you back. No barriers, no politics, nothing. Write it down. Then ask yourself: Why on earth you are letting anything stand between you and what you really want? Aren’t you worth that dream? Aren’t you competent enough to execute against that dream? If not, why not? Find out if it’s an actual physical challenge — or if it’s just negative self-talk and lack of confidence that’s holding you back.


By the time I had finished my call with that brilliant young woman I spoke with this morning, we had hatched an idea for a business that will hopefully be a great success for her. It may, of course, fall flat on its face. But one thing is for sure: There’s nothing in the world holding her, or anyone else, back from just going for it.

by Carrie Kerpen