Occasionally we are asked a question and, in the answer, learn something new about ourselves. At the 2016 Simmons Leadership Conference, I spoke on a panel and during the Q&A portion which got a question that had that effect on me. A young woman asked us what women earlier in their careers should do to position themselves as potential leaders.
"Start with banning the word should from your vocabulary." I said. I further explained how important I believe it is to write your own story and to be true to yourself. My answer was a pithy soundbite, but kept returning to my mind in the coming days. I have read great advice for women on the impact of semantics on people's impressions. From eliminating the word "just" to stopping constant apologies, there were words I was adding. I added "should" to the list of words we shouldn't be using.
If I had more time with that young woman, I would have explained the thought behind it.
Stop "should-ing" yourself
The word "should" judges us. It implies there is something we aren't doing correctly or that we've missed doing what is required. It tells us we are falling short in some way and not doing enough of something. In dictionary definitions, it is noted that usage indicates the speaker considers the action to be obligatory.
In our careers and lives, we are harshest on ourselves when we fail to do what we and others believe we should. On balance, women do not take enough credit for what we accomplish and when others praise us, we suffer from imposter syndrome.
In answering the young woman's question, I couldn't bring myself to start with "Here's what you should do"
Replace it with can, consider, will and want
To ban one word from the list requires we replace it with something else. The sentiment behind young woman's question was a valid and common one. None of us has been kept awake at night for the things we want, will, can or considering doing. Think of how different it sounds rephrasing the question with these other words.
What can women do to position themselves as potential leaders?
What would you suggest I consider doing to position myself as a potential leader?
In answering the question for ourselves, it increases the power to the speaker when reframed.
This is what I will do to position myself as a leader.
This is what I can do to position myself as a leader.
My point in the short answer I gave was that being true to your values and strengths is critical on your career journey. My final rephrasing for this puts not only the power but also the choice and passion into the statement.
Of the options open to me, this is what I want to do to position myself to become a leader.
This post is dedicated to all women who look in the mirror and see a leader there ready to take the leap.