I was a freshly minted MBA sitting in a meeting at my new employer. The issue at hand is now hazy in my memory but what stood out to me was that everyone in the room seemed very puzzled by how to approach the situation being discussed.
I had an idea but clearly it wasn’t worth mentioning because it was so obvious. I reasoned it had occurred to, and been rejected by, all of the esteemed leaders in the room. A lively discussion continued until about 45 minutes into the meeting when the head of the group proposed an idea and immediately everyone got in line behind the solution she’d proposed. And wouldn’t you know it... her brilliant idea was the same one that I’d had 10 minutes into the meeting and kept to myself.
Even though I’d had the idea idea first, because I hadn’t shared it, I would not get credit or be recognized for being a strategic thinker. That hurt because I longed to make an impact and move up. And because I was too shy to speak up, many man-hours of valuable executive time were wasted. Had I shared the idea when it occurred to me, we could have fast-forwarded to discussing how to implement the idea.
I’m not unique in this habit of self-editing and I wish I could say that was the only time that happened in my career. I’ve talked with many others who kicked themselves for not sharing ideas that came to them quickly when others later proffered the same idea and were recognized for it. Chance are you’re also among those who have self-edited to your own detriment.
So this phenomenon begs two questions. First, what gets in the way of speaking up and sharing your ideas? And second, and more importantly, how can you overcome the barriers to participate fully and confidently at work so that you are adding value and feeling fulfilled?
There are several reasons that you may refrain from sharing your ideas. Each of these reasons boils down to fear — fear of negative outcomes such as criticism, embarrassment, or exposure. You may also avoid speaking up because of underlying fears related to potential positive outcomes such as setting the bar for higher performance expectations in the future and the pressure of potentially needing to execute on the ideas that you have come up with.
The key to uprooting these fears is to get to the heart of beliefs that underpin the blocks. You could have a gremlin message (wrongly) telling you that you’re not as good as the others in the room. Especially if you’re less experienced, it’s understandable that you might put leaders on a pedestal and expect them to know more -- that's not unusual. But it’s important to remember that leaders are only human and didn’t start out at the top of the ladder. Usually they got there by distinguishing themselves and if you want to get ahead, you need to do the same by showing what you know and what you can do.
You were also hired to bring your ideas, experience and unique insights to the company. If you’re invited to a meeting then you can believe that your ideas are expected and hopefully will be valued. If you have an ambition up to advance in your organization then let your ideas see the light of day. It’s only by taking risks that you make progress and show others what you’re capable of.
Let that little light of yours shine and watch where it leads you.