7 Hiding Strategies That Keep Women Entrepreneurs From Playing Big

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The post was previously published on Forbes.com

Why is it that women with tremendous talent, big visions, and innovative ideas often don’t see their own brilliance while recognizing it in others?

I recently interviewed author, entrepreneur and expert on women’s leadership Tara Mohr, who wrote Playing Big: Find Your Voice, Your Mission, Your Message because “I’m tired of meeting women who have important messages to share but whose self-doubt is keeping them quiet. I’m tired of encountering woman after woman deluded by the myth that she needs to be more something – more qualified, more prepared, more expert – than she is in order to share her ideas. I wrote it out of allegiance to the art not yet made, the companies not yet founded, the books and op-ed columns not yet written, the critiques not yet voiced. I wrote it because all those expressions of goodness, of insight, of beauty, hang in the balance. I wrote this book because I want our world to be changed by you.”

Women entrepreneurs face a unique set of challenges. There are external barriers and challenges, such as the Old Boys Club of venture capitalism. And there are also a variety of internal factors that can contribute to playing small. Personally, these internal factors excite me most because we have the ability to influence and change these barriers from within – immediately.

Tara Mohr believes that “centuries of women’s exclusion from political, public, and professional life have had many effects. Some of those effects were external: legislation, formal policies, pay disparities, lack of legal protections, and the denial of women’s basic rights.” This external creation of inequality has internal effects in women. “Over generations, it shaped how we think of ourselves and what we see as possible for our lives and work. It shaped our fears – fears of speaking up, of rocking the boat, of displeasing others. It caused women to develop a number of [survival] behaviors … like conflict avoidance, self-censoring, people-pleasing, tentative speech and action.”

In her new book, Tara outlines six main hiding strategies women use to downplay their brilliance and “play small.” Tara also believes there is a simple and powerful step you can take to start “playing big” instead.

Hiding Strategy 1: This before That

According to Tara, “This before that” are the false beliefs we hold about the order in which things need to happen: “I’d love to teach classes on X topic, but I have to have a website first and I need to save up for that.” Or “I’d love to invite SO-AND-SO senior executive to lunch, but I need clarity on what I want first so I know how to steer the conversation” There is no law that says you have to have a website before you start to teach. Similarly, why not ask the senior executive to lunch with the purpose of gaining clarity?

Hiding Strategy 2: Designing at the Whiteboard

Do you have a product, service, or idea that you work on without any input from those who would be interested in it? Are you thinking more than acting? “When we design at the whiteboard, we feel as if we are doing diligent work, but much of that work turns out to be unproductive, because what we create isn’t aligned with our intended audience. The whiteboard is safe for us … because it doesn’t expose our ideas to criticism or rejection.”

Hiding Strategy 3: Over Complicating and Endless Polishing

This involves adding element after element to your creation, telling yourself you just need to fix that one thing or add that one feature before you can release it. Overcomplicating and continual polishing just delays putting our work out into the world.

Hiding Strategy 4: Collecting and Curating Everyone Else’s Ideas

Some hiding strategies, like this one, are more subtle. We may think we are putting ourselves out there when we decide to collect the stories of others. However, we are actually hiding our own voice by excluding it from the conversation or including only a small portion of it. Women often think they need to quote other trusted authorities rather than relying on their own personal experience. “Brilliant women often feature others’ ideas to sidestep claiming their own thought leadership,” Tara adds.

Hiding Strategy 5: Omitting Your Own Story

Many of us assume it would be unprofessional to share our personal stories and their influence on our desire to do the work we do. According to Tara, “The firm division of the professional and the personal, the ‘objective expert’ persona, the delusion that the work we are drawn to has nothing to do with the core questions in our hearts – these are outdated ideas…. Playing bigger always includes, in some way, coming forward to tell our own tales.… This is how our work finds its spark and gains the power not just to inform minds but also to change hearts.”

Hiding Strategy 6: I Need the Degree

Tara believes that “One of the most common hiding strategies is also one of the easiest to overlook, because it’s something we generally regard as a good idea: getting more (and more and more) education.” Taking on a new skill – such as brain surgery – can require additional education. However, too many brilliant women pursue additional education to make themselves “more,” when they are “enough” already. Also, more education is much easier than playing big.

Hiding Strategy 7: Paralyzed by Lack of Clarity

Tara outlined the six hiding strategies above in her book; because I’m a sucker for lists of seven, I’m adding one more I’ve observed in my coaching programs. I often hear women say they don’t like their job and want to do something more meaningful, but they don’t know what that something is. These women are too scared to commit until they know how the change will happen and that it will work. This isn’t how commitment works. We often have to commit first before we have a guarantee of anything or a plan for how things will unfold. If you’re unhappy in your current situation, make a change. The clarity on where to go will come once you take the first step. A great first step to take is to get in touch with your intuition, and one way to do this is through meditation. Here is a free 30 Day Meditation Challenge that can help you gain clarity.

Once you recognize your hiding strategy, Tara offers a simple yet powerful solution to start playing big. She calls it a “Leap.” A Leap is essentially an action step that propels you out of your hiding strategy.

Leaps have six criteria:

1. It gets you playing bigger now, according to your definition of playing bigger.

2. It can be finished in one to two weeks.

3. It’s a simple action.

4. It gets your adrenaline flowing.

5. It puts you in contact with the audience you want to reach or influence.

6. You leap with an intent to learn.

Sample leaps include: hosting a workshop, sending a memo to the boss about a strategy idea, or applying for three positions in your desired field.

One of my mentors recently told me that change is 20% insight and 80% action, and Tara’s leaps are a great way to move past your hiding strategy by taking immediate and simple action. You will find energy in taking the first step towards what you want. Additional steps become easier with momentum. So I ask you, how can you play big? And what are you willing to do to get there?

We need your voices, your work, your contributions in the world. As Tara shared; “In the minds of women around the globe lie the seeds of the solutions to climate change, poverty, violence, corporate corruption… In millions of communities, organizations, companies, and families, women know what needs to be done. Playing big is doing it.”

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