Sometimes I think we can make things much more complicated than they really are. We analyze and dissect and re-analyze our behavior and the implications of our behavior until we forget our original intention.

I could be wrong here, but I think we, as women, especially professional women, expend a great deal of energy second guessing ourselves. Do you find that’s true for you? Why can’t we just be our authentic selves and act accordingly? Why don’t we believe that if we act authentically it’s enough to be successful?

I recently read a great article by Margaret Heffernan about “What’s the True Test of a Tough Leader?” Margaret tells the story from her own experience of trying to be tough and prove to everyone that she had what it took to lead a company. The article describes a dinner she had with a union boss where she ate the duck’s tongues, chicken’s feet and gizzards he had ordered, to prove to him that she could be tough on negotiating new contracts. Of course, she later realized how foolish she had been. Being tough in this case could have meant being true to herself and signaling the waiter to order something else. Which behavior would have been easier for her to “swallow”? :>)

Margaret’s article speaks to the issue of women trying to play someone else’s game; trying to prove themselves as tough leaders. I think we all fall into traps occasionally when we play someone else’s game in business because we think that we “should” act a certain way to be respected or noticed or promoted. I have read countless books and articles on female leadership, for instance,  that speak about what it takes to make it in business, that call for women to learn behavior that is not in alignment with their authentic selves. Will we ever really be successful this way?

The more reading we do; the more advice we receive; the more confused we become and the more we begin to second guess ourselves. First and foremost, we need to believe in ourselves and have the confidence to trust our instincts. Without that foundation of trust, we can be influenced and pulled in so many directions that we lose the focus of where we’re going. Armed with a strong belief in self and a strong sense of our identity, we can then evaluate the advice that bombards us every day and decide whether it works for us. Isn’t this better than turning ourselves inside out to try to change in a way that will never really work for us in the long term?

So how do women in business succeed? How do we become successful in a male dominated culture and still be our authentic selves? First of all, we need to recognize what value we bring to an organization or situation and be confident that our talent and experience benefits the company in a variety of ways. Then we need to think strategically about how to best communicate our value and to whom. One of the major issues I see with my coaching clients is the inability to see what value they bring to the table, either in their job or with their own business. How can you “sell” yourself to others when you don’t understand this?

Connect with who you are and what value you bring and from that position of strength and confidence, evaluate the advice you receive. Don’t play someone else’s game. We can be “tough” by making a connection to our own power and we don’t need to eat duck’s tongues to prove it!