Seasoned professionals described as analytical, cautious, or humble may plateau before delivering on their full potential as leaders. It’s avoidable, if the problem is not one of smarts or capability, but of missing a bit of swagger.
Keeping too much to yourself, being too cautious or deferential, or talking about too many nuts and bolts when a blueprint will suffice can hold you back from being considered an equal among more senior people. After all, they need to know what you think without hesitance or ambiguity if they’re going to play with you like a peer.
I’m not going to ask you to hug your inner child -- BUT if you were a nerd, geek, academic genius, or failed to run for class president, and you’ve made it this far, maybe there’s something more for you to contribute. Delivery is key.
Check Your Swagger Meter
Too much swagger is a bad thing, and I’m not suggesting you artificially (or actually) fill the room with an excessively extraverted presence. On the other hand, if you are overly cautious or deferential, you’ll likely be perceived more of a valued doer than a blood-brother, trusted leader or compadre in the executive suite or boardroom.
Whatever’s missing, chances are you can’t see it for yourself as well as others can see it ABOUT you.
So ask trusted colleagues how you tend to come across in various situations on a communication stylistic scale from deferential to aggressive.
Ask them what they notice / and the prevailing opinion about you on those dimensions. Give them permission to be candid, VERY candid. I’d even recommend you ask them to tell you what they DON’T want you to know.
Once you get that blind spot feedback, look for your triggers and patterns. Are you less assertive all the time, sometimes, in certain groups, or types of situations? When does this passive or people-pleasing approach show up most often?
Maybe you have a good reason for it! Have you been turned off by an overly assertive colleague or boss (and are trying to avoid that behavior?) Have you had a situation where you were a little too out there and been burned. If any of the above is true, then your operating guidelines were shaped by bad data. Open your mind to resetting your beliefs about the positive value of swagger.
I challenge you to challenge yourself on those notions, and try on a more assertive approach. If after some practice, you find it doesn’t fit you, then no worries, you’re probably at your best as is.
If you’re data-driven, smart, and capable, then your challenge is to trust your instincts and experience by shooting from the hip more frequently. Imagine people are asking you “Yes, but what’s your overall opinion?” Coming from you, who would rather ride the mountain of data, it’s probably going to be right on, even if you have a nagging desire to run off and do a new spreadsheet.
Reading the room, assessing what’s needed and how it’s best delivered, then expressing your opinion come with risk. You may get laughed at, shot down, or find you made a mistake. Yet even that lets people see you better, know you, and want to play with you like the peers we ultimately are to each other.