Eyes on the Prize

Is what you care about within your control?

One of the most frequent questions women ask me is: How can I talk about my achievements without anyone thinking I’m arrogant or overly ambitious? 

My answer may be equally notable: you probably can’t. And you shouldn’t waste your energy trying to manage other peoples’ impressions.

Your job is to be as clear as you possibly can about your contributions so that others have the information they need to move ahead. And to make sure that your good work does not get overlooked because you were more concerned with how you might come across.  

The point here is not to minimize the importance of how others perceive us or to say that what others think doesn’t matter. But honestly, women often spend so much time endeavoring to frame what they say in a pleasing way that they hardly need advice about how to show or cultivate concern. 

The danger is quite the opposite: if you elevate concern for how you strike others above all else, you risk demoting- or derailing-  the very goals you want to accomplish. 

Note to self: Keep your eyes on the prize. 

In other words, your goals should be your first order of business, your obsession, your main concern. Not what others think of you. 

That word, concern: Steven Covey wrote about it in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

He says that when we fail to align our circle of concern (what we care about) with our circle of influence (what we can control), we undermine our ability to accomplish what we want to get done. 

We spin our wheels, grind our gears, waste our energy on things we can’t budge. For women in particular this often manifests as rumination.

I have often talked about how my heroine and mentor, Frances Hesselbein, consistently commands the respect and even the reverence of predominantly male groups, including corporate directors and West Point officers–– despite her soft spokenness, notable age, female demeanor and small physical stature. 

Why do such groups hang on her every word? Is she just lucky? No. Is she brilliant and talented? Yes.  But more importantly, she is totally invested in her purpose in every situation. This enables her to be clear about who she is and why she’s there.

Being focused on what she intends to achieve, she does not stew about what others think, something she knows lies outside her control. Her level of focus is contagious, so she manages to exert influence even over those who might have come into her orbit with their biases intact. Their biases don’t vanish, but they are disarmed.

Mission accomplished, I’d say. 

So, while I have empathy for anyone asking how to avoid seeming arrogant or aggressive, I would point out that this question does not necessarily serve their interests. A better question might be, why am I so concerned with what others think of me? 

Or better yet: what do I need to do to accomplish my goal?