How to Bridge the Confidence Gap with Sinead Sharkey-Steenson

How to Bridge the Confidence Gap with Sinead Sharkey-Steenson


Full Transcript Below

Jenn DeWall: Hi everyone. It’s Jenn DeWall. And on this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast, I sat down with Sinead Sharkey-Steenson to talk about bridging the confidence gap. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Actually, some of you might be thinking, I don’t struggle with confidence, so I’m just gonna walk away, but there’s a lot more to understanding what confidence is, how to tell when we have it or how to build it when we don’t. And so I would encourage you to keep an open mind, think about how we assess other people’s confidence and how we even assess our own and even open up a new way to think about how you can develop your own confidence. But before we dive into the show, let me tell you a little bit more about Sinead Sharkey-Steenson.

Meet Sinead Sharkey-Steenson, The Career Elevator Coach

Jenn DeWall: Sinead is the Career Elevator Coach at Generation Women, where she helps women get promotions and pay raises they deserve. Passionate about equality in seeing more women in leadership, Sinead blends practical strategies with simple mindset tools to achieve amazing results, with several getting over 100% pay raises and multiple promotions. There are claps to be shared there! To date, Sinead has helped close to 10,000 women take a step up Sinead draws on over 20 years of corporate experience in HR leadership development, business improvement, and cultural transformation to help her support women to achieve their ambitions. And she has been recognized as one of 22 Leaders to Learn From in 2022 by Bunch Leadership App. Now, I want you to know that you might be thinking, oh, I guess I’m a man. I’m gonna tune out. No, we are actually going to be talking about the differences as well in men and women in gender, as it relates to the confidence gap. So enjoy our conversation on how to bridge the confidence gap. Sinead Sharkey-Steenson. So great to have you on the podcast today. Did I say that right that time?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson: You got it right! That’s thank you so much. I’m really excited about this. This is gonna be fun, I think.

Jenn DeWall: Oh my gosh. Yeah, we’re talking today. So welcome to The Leadership Habit. We are so happy to have as our guest today,  Sinead Sharkey-Steenson. We’re happy to have Sinead on the show today to talk about the confidence gap, which I know. I’m just gonna say it. Whoever is listening, whether or not you realize it— you may have a confidence opportunity. I think sometimes people actually, you know, when they think of confidence, they think, well, I’m a confident person, and they don’t actually peel back the layers. So I want to invite you to be curious today on what confidence looks like and where potentially you may not be showing up with confidence, even though you might think you are, but Sinead, before we jump into the show, let’s get your origin story because I love hearing, you know, tell us how you came to be where you are today.

How Sinead Learned to Tap Into Authentic Confidence

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson: Oh, well, I’ll tell you the bit that relates to confidence because you know, an origin story can go on for a while. <Laugh> so I’ll give you the bit. So my confidence origin story actually goes back to being a child and, and I’m the youngest of four children by quite some way. And I was labeled shy as of six or seven years of age and I just remember that so clearly like, and not that it was like a feeling I had, but hi, you’re Sinead. And you are shy. That’s your identity now, keep it for the rest of your life. And that was kind of how it felt. Especially when I look back on it and see what it did. And so roll forward many years to when I’m starting out in my career, I was really good academically and I was a big pleaser and high achiever and all of those things.

But I went, I did, I studied psychology as my degree and came out of that degree with no idea what I was gonna do. Just like I have no direction here. Where am I going? And and that was, that started a series of me drifting into things, doing what seemed like the best option at the time. And so I did a management diploma for a couple of years, I worked in HR. And then I was like, no, I don’t wanna work in HR. Went back to school, did tech. And that was when the shy seven-year-old kicked right back in. So I was doing a master’s in computing and information systems, as it was called back in 1999. And <laugh>, I recognized very quickly I was in the wrong place. My brain didn’t work in the way that the rest of the people in the class did.

And what the hell was I going to do? But here I am, I have no other directions to go in. And that, that imposter, that fear that, you know, the whole thought of being speaking up and being looked at, like I was stupid, really kicked in. And I went off. I, I really did well in the course. Like I, I got <laugh> just below a distinction, which was remarkable and ended up then in the workplace in a corporate job in the total wrong thing for me and confidence was an issue again. But thankfully, I recognized after a few years of misery and whatever that nobody could come and sort this out, except for me. So off I went to rebuild my confidence, find my direction, work out what I was gonna do, and made huge changes to my career. Thanks to a lovely boss I had then, and support.

And it was through working out what my strengths were, my direction. Then I managed to tap into what was a more authentic confidence and real confidence. And even when I didn’t know what I was doing, the imposter wasn’t there the same, because I was like, I know that I’m gonna work this out and I could go with this. And I just as I got through that corporate career started to look at having a business, and after I’d had children, that’s what I wanted to do. I thought, well, I need to help women navigate a lot of what I’ve gone through. So find the right career lean into their confidence and their strength, and be able to have maximum impact in what they do.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. And that’s what we strive for. But I love that you shared an experience that I think a lot of people can relate to when you feel like you walk into a room and you look around and you’re like, am I, am I in the wrong place here? And you start to second guess maybe who you are, whether you belong, whether your voice matters. I think that there are a lot of experiences within the workplace that can lead us to that, to that feeling in that room of just not feeling like we even add value. And so if you’re listening to this right now, we’re gonna be building on this, talking about bridging that confidence gap, leveraging Sinead’s experience and helping you see the big picture because you’re not alone. A lot of people struggle with confidence. I mean, tell me about your work. Like, I, I know that for me, I initially started as a career coach and all you really actually find is that it’s all about confidence. Because confidence determines what we do or don’t do. But how do you see it in your line of work? What are the situations that your clients are coming to you for?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Oh, it’s a hundred percent that there’s so many situations. You know, when I get somebody in front of me, whether it’s online or in person, you can see the potential, you can see, you know, what’s underneath, but they quite often are oblivious <laugh> to it. They don’t understand what they have and how special they are. And that really impacts their confidence to go for things. Or if they do know. And there’s a glimer of that knowledge, there’s that those saboteurs in your head chipping away going, who do you think you are? I thinking you can do that or whatever it is that fear it is essentially pushing you back into your box to go, no, you’re not gonna step up today. That’s not gonna happen. You just stay safe there and everything will be okay. And that’s what I see with women every day. They just need that bit of a strategy and bit of a shove of support to take the step.

What is The Confidence Gap?

Jenn DeWall:  It’s our mindset, it’s our reaction. So let’s, let’s dive into it. What is from your perspective how do you describe what a confidence gap is for someone that’s maybe curious about it? Do they have it? Some people are likely like, yes, I know that I struggle with confidence, but how do you describe what a confidence gap is?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  So there’s two ways of looking at it because the confidence gap that’s after talked about is the terms of, is there a confidence gap between men and women? And actually in reality, there isn’t, we all can suffer from a lack of confidence. But there is a difference in how that shows up and how we, what the expectations are on men versus women. So I’m sure we will delve into that a little bit later, but really a confidence gap is a gap between what you are potentially capable of doing and what you feel comfortable and able to go and do. <Laugh>. So quite often, there’s a huge gap between what, how I’m feeling and what I could potentially do. And in that gap is, is so much possibility. And it’s so frustrating to think that how many of us are, are sitting and holding ourselves back from what we could possibly do.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh. So many. I mean, you know, what’s okay. I’ve got a serious question because some people think that there’s an art of mastery with confidence. And from my perspective in teaching that, I have friends that are like, don’t you teach confidence? Like, why aren’t you showing up with confidence? And the thing that I always say is that it’s not a destination any time that you’re, you know, taking a risk, you’re likely going to find yourself at the confidence gap. But tell me from your experience, because I think there’s this expectation that, you know, kind of like perfection, there’s a myth that like, oh, now I’ve figured out all the keys and tools until they don’t work anymore. What’s your perspective on that?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Oh, I think I’m in your camp, Jenn! Where confidence is really contextual. So when I know my stuff, when I’m using my strengths, when I’m in my zone, I am nailing it and I’m as confident as can be, and there’s no stopping me, but plant me in another situation where I don’t feel, I know anything. I don’t know what the answers are, what I’m supposed to be talking about, how I’m supposed to be delivering. Like if this podcast was about anything tech-related <laugh>, then I would be in my zone of terror and there will be absolute gobbledy-goop coming outta my mouth. So I think what, what people are seeing is there’s certain people, there’s a small percentage of the population that are able to bluff it in any situation. And they’ve got this veneer of, I’ve got this. I can talk about anything that I can do, whatever, but underneath that everybody has, well, everybody apart from maybe the art person has this, oh my goodness. I’m gonna be found out. I’m now wandering into a zone where I have no idea. <Laugh> where I am. Please. Somebody rescue me. So yeah, I think it’s, it’s contextual, but I think there’s a lot we can do to strengthen the muscle of confidence that can filter out into more areas.

How Does Confidence Show Up Differently in Men and Women?

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah. Well, we’re gonna talk about more building that. How can we flex that? How can we develop our confidence muscle? But you know, we have obviously men and women listening right now from the perspective of confidence, what is the difference between men and women that you’ve noticed? Like, I know we’re conditioned, we’re primed in a different way. What do you see?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Oh, we are a hundred percent primed, and a lot of it will be cultural as well. And I know we are gonna talk about that in a minute, but I just wanted to preempt that. Yeah.

Jenn DeWall:  That’s a very important point that depending on where we are raised, we are going to demonstrate it differently.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Yeah. And especially the, the gender thing as well, the expectations on us. So those things overlap. But if you think about there’s a great experiment was done on by a BBC show a few years ago, where they got parents to put their babies through these different, safe experiments to see how differently they treated their baby. If there were a boy and if there were a girl and one of the things was putting them on this ramp to crawl down and the parents of baby boys were cranking up the ramp really high, like, yeah, my baby’s got no problem. They’ll get down this without, without thinking. And whereas the, the parents of girls were more likely to play it safe. And so there’s these expectations and ways people behave around you right from the get-go. And I know where I grew up, like the expectation at school would be, you know, it was great if a boy even looked at his homework, whereas I better have my homework done and the answers better all be perfect. And so all along, we’re creating this way of thinking about how girls or boys perform and behave. It’s reinforced by books. It’s reinforced by TV, it’s reinforced by advertising. And so confidence then is a completely different beast when it comes to girls or boys. Because for, for boys, they’ve been encouraged to take risks and to be loud and to do all those things. And girls quite often, and a lot of cultures have been encouraged to be perfect and quiet and, and get on with it and not be too showy and, and all of these things. So it, it’s really interesting when you roll forward to the workplace as to how that might look.

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh, we’re gonna dive into that in a second. And that speaks to me because I, you know, as a woman, I think those expectations in the culture where I grew up, the woman was seen as again, be quiet, look good, cuz that’s also the other piece of like put yourself together, be well kept. Mind your voice. Like, are you supposed to be participating in this conversation? And I think, I don’t know how the heck I got it. It obviously dealt with my upbringing. I had to be very strong from a young age and kind of grow up really fast. And so I think I developed this sense of self and articulation that other people didn’t have. And so I felt more and it wasn’t confidence. It wasn’t that it was self-awareness and like asking questions and being more curious, just because of maybe a different way of perspective, because I had to grow up young and how I would say that impacted, you know, going into that conversation.

Like when I was in high school, I think of descriptions that friends said, like you were over zealous, you know, I was student council president. I was this and I was right. I was trying to prove it to people that I was good enough and that had to do with my own family stuff. But I always got my hand slapped for being too loud. I always got my hand slapped for not being quiet enough or for being too driven. And then going into my corporate career, I actually, you know, my first two positions that wasn’t a challenge. It was my third position in a more male-dominated part of the company that then that became seen as like this huge flaw. And it became a weight for me that I carried around. Like I was unworthy and what in the heck was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just smile and wear a dress and do what they said?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Oh, <laugh> Oh! That makes me want to cry and pull my hair at the same time!

Jenn DeWall:  I mean, and let’s, cause let’s talk about that. Like thinking about these conditions and this is where it’s planting the seed to our audience, like, is this an opportunity to relearn the way that we look at expectations of individuals or genders and what they are supposed to look like, how are they supposed to look like, because when that comes into the workplace, then we start to talk about that beautiful term, which you and I just talked about in the pre-show, you know, executive presence or gravitas, but I’ve decided that after today, after you telling me what gravitas actually means, I don’t like it. <Laugh> probably because I don’t have gravitas by nature of who I am, but what does–

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  We should probably share what that means. Yeah.

Executive Presence and the Confidence Gap

Jenn DeWall:  Yes <laugh> let’s so let’s talk about what executive presence means or yeah, we’ll talk you, so gravitas can be used with executive presence, leadership presence. We’re going to be talking about executive presence, but for those that might be curious about what the word gravitas means. That’s often used to describe this. What does it mean Sinead?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Well, I actually did Google this, so it comes from the Latin and it’s, it’s derived from serious. And I think there’s a bit too much seriousness in the workplace as it is. And do we have impact really by how serious we are or is it how confident and how knowledgeable and how we perform, how we get results. That should really be where our gravitas is and our executive presence. But yeah, this term of executive presence, it’s one of those things that’s banded about and it’s what on earth does that even actually mean? <Laugh> to, you know, and it’s something you can imagine a set of leaders sitting around a boardroom table discussing, you know, the pay rises after the performance. Oh yeah. Jenn’s good, but she doesn’t really have executive presence.

Jenn DeWall:  That happened to me through my life. I’m not sure no one is surprised, but that absolutely happens. <Laugh>

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Well, I mean, what is that? And so you have to really dig for people to say, well, what, what you actually mean? Cause they will all nod and go, oh yes, yes. You’re so right. Yeah. We, we can’t be promoting her. She just doesn’t have the right presence. What does it mean? And I think it, it comes back to this gendered thing that we have this perception of what presence and leadership is quite often based on men and let’s face it, white men cause there’s so much other diversity plays into this as well, that holds people back. And so really what they’re talking about is taking up space, being able to project your voice, to be self promoting, you know, to be assertive. And lots of those things are things women get knocked down for. You said it yourself, Jenn, like those were all the things that people were like, oh God, Jenn, don’t be, don’t be overzealous. Or you might get bossy or too big for your boots or, or whatever the expression is, shrill, you know, all these words for describing women behaving in a way that demonstrates executive presence essentially. So yeah,

Jenn DeWall:  Always you’re too much of it. And I wanna touch on that because executive presence, you know, I had recently read something that said, I think it was that 50% of HR professionals actually find it really difficult to define, but yet on the flip side, 70% say it’s extremely easy to spot.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Right.

Jenn DeWall:  But then we have to think about bias because I, yeah. You know, you’re gonna get me really lit up on this because there are just situations in my life, again, being a more direct woman I’m loud, right? Hosting a podcast. No one’s surprised. But even when it came down to presence, I had recently done a speaking event and I’d asked the meeting professional in the committee before, if it would be okay if I wore a blazer and jeans, like, Hey, the message that I’m talking about is being human. And I think I want to come up with something that’s more relatable. And at the end of that event, someone came up, a lovely person, came up to give me feedback. I’m not, you know, shooting the messenger. This is a great individual, but he had shared to me, Hey John, I wanna let you know that there’s this me other meeting professional that came up to me afterwards. And she said, she just loved your talk, but she couldn’t hire you because you wore jeans. And then he went on to say, and I know that’s different because I know that men can, and in my like head, because I’m, I’m thinking is this 20, 22? How are we still having these conversations? And you know, I did, that was a calculated risk on my time or on my terms. I knew I was towing the line with the audience. So I am not asking for any level of pity. I knew that I was towing the line. I wanted to come off as more relatable. That is a calculated risk. It backfired. But yet it still begs the question, how are assessing someone’s performance? Is it all on the physical still where we’re not even paying attention to the impact they’re making? And if so, why and what are our flaws and our thinking process, I don’t know, takes on that. Like <laugh>

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Oh, well like this. Oh, I’m so frustrated as I’m sure you were by that!

Jenn DeWall:  I mean, I, I cried. I cried, right? Because I put all of my work into the stage. And so I sobbed and sobbed and I had to give myself a week to cry. Like I’m just being honest, cried. I was, and I suck, like, why did I do that? Like, I’m so stupid. Like, you know, I went through all those emotions and it, yeah, it, it sucked, like it wasn’t great.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  And the thing is, I can imagine how brilliant your talk was. Like, what kind of world are we in that the value of your message and your impact in what you said, wasn’t more, that was what you were there and paid to do. That’s what you were representing. That’s why you were there. That, that wasn’t it. No, a pair of jeans can undo that. And not only did he share that, but he called out the double standard and still doubled down on it. And instead of going, hold on, why do we have this double standard, pushing back to, to whoever you were speaking to and said, yeah, she wore jeans and she was amazing. Doesn’t that just show that jeans don’t matter! What we wear doesn’t matter. And it is so angering because not only are we we creating issues from a gender perspective, but also I have a child who’s neuro divergent, and I know she is brilliant and amazing, and she’s gonna go out into the world.

She has the most creative mind and a great problem solver, which is very common. When you’ve a neuro divergent brain. And comfort in what you wear, being able to wear a hoodie or whatever it is, how is that gonna impact your capability at work? And I know that’s taking us off in a little tangent, but it’s all coming to the same thing. Surely we should be creating an environment where people can perform at their best. That’s their confidence will come very naturally when they’re supported to be who they are and valued for the impact. They can have the knowledge they bring the you know, the excellence that’s within them, but yet we’re willing to push all that down because of a pair of jeans.

Jenn DeWall:  <Laugh> I? Yeah. I, I mean, I, yeah, it’s we miss the mark. Sometimes we pay attention to the wrong things, but much of it is because we have our own biases that we’re developed.

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Allyship and the Confidence Gap

Jenn DeWall:  So let’s talk about what’s appropriate. You know, how we were conditioned, if you were a man or a boy, what is appropriate that they can do, you know, based on how they were conditioned, because I think this is important for men to also see the flip side of that. And we’ll talk about that as well, but what was encouraged in men and boys, but discouraged in girls and women?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Well, I can give you the perfect example of this. And this is why I, I got interested in this. So one day I was taking a nap with my children and I’d sat them down in front of the TV. And they were watching a well known children’s global TV channel and advertising came on and they advertised on that towards girls, it was all selfie sticks make, you know, makeup, princess-y things. It was all about appearance. And to boys, it was about risk-taking science exploration. It was cultivating them as individuals to make an impact on the world. And so as men, we have to recognize, or they have to recognize, I can’t speak for you <laugh> but you’ve been, you’ve been cultured to be these things, but also you’ve been stuck from being allowed to express your feelings and, and to explore that other side of you that exists in all of us, you know, we’re not comfortable with boys playing with dolls and that kinda thing. And so we’ve each got to challenge ourselves to look at what’s that done to shape your thinking? And like, you know, the guy with the jeans is such a perfect example. Like he even knew as the words were coming outta his mouth, that he was wrong. Well, catch yourself, and question it, you know, why am I thinking that this is okay? How can I be part of the solution instead of propagating the problem?

Jenn DeWall:  Oh my gosh, I love that. Well, because again, I wanna emphasize that the individual that shared that to me or shared that with me was actually great. And he is very highly regarded. No, he is. But I think, and I, I knew the moment that he was saying it, I could see in his eyes like, oh God, I it’s coming. I could see it in his eyes of like, I shouldn’t have said that. Yeah. Like I don’t think it was any ill intended. Yeah. Actually think he was trying to help me, but it does beg the question of what allyship also needs to look like in a workplace. Like, Hey, you know, I bet if you talk to her, she could also not wear jeans. As I look to my closet over there and see all of my dresses and professional attire, because I worked in corporate America for a long time, you know? And I actually love dressing up. I was just trying to like, add into my message, you know, it was a failure. I may not ever do that again. Or maybe I’ll like, that’s the cross all,

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  No, you need to do it! Don’t let it stop you!. Yeah. But yeah,

Jenn DeWall:  But it’s, and I, I wanna say that because don’t be afraid, but the other piece I want to say is, cuz I’ve seen this where in the workplace men, you can get as angry as you want. That is the appropriate emotion. Actually. That’s the only emotion that you can demonstrate at work is that, you know, anger, frustration, things in that vein. Women on the other hand, not allowed to show that, right. Especially if it’s not contained well, like then that’s like, what’s going on you’re to this you’re to that and that creates an unfairness for men because men just to let you know, I know that you cry. I know that you’re sad. I know that you get this and it’s okay. But you actually were told that the only way that you can really demonstrate that is through anger and frustration and you know, women we’re also told that they can’t do it that way, but they can cry. They can absolutely cry. That’s what we expect of them. They’re just emotional beings that can’t handle their stuff, like challenge that. We can both be both of those things.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Absolutely. And, and being allies for each other is how we make that change. So, you know, when you hear yourself saying the things. When you are challenging somebody’s performance, based on how they speak, how they dress, how they look like, that’s gotta be a clue to the fact that that’s not appropriate. You know, let’s think about this and it it’s to catch yourself in that and recognize it. And also when you hear other people doing it, saying, okay, is that right? Is that cool? Is that what we should be doing? You know, here’s another perspective on it. So maybe you don’t like how you know, Sinead speaks particularly, but what’s important is what she’s actually saying. <Laugh> so how can we <laugh> listen to that?

Jenn DeWall:  How can we be curious? I once had someone, we were booking a speaker and the speaker had in the U.S., a Southern accent, and some, there was one individual that really took issue with it. But here’s how I look at it. We actually are a global organization, meaning that everyone’s accent is going to be so different and nuanced based on whether English is their second language, where they grew up, like it’s all relative, right. We’re just getting, these are distractions that are taking away from really important messages. But let’s talk about the, the differences culturally, and then we’re gonna dive into how to bridge the confidence gap. What do you notice as like the cultural nuances?

Stereotypes and the Confidence Gap

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  So I grew up in the UK and those of you listening from outside the UK, you know, some of the stereotypes you see are not too far from the truth. So the what you call the Hugh grant in <laugh> and those things whilst we’re not all that posh, that real self-deprecating way of getting on is a reality. You know, I’ll just minimize myself until you can’t see me, is a real cultural thing. And so both men and women do it, but women definitely do it a lot more. And so that’s gonna have a major impact on new confidence. And I’ll never forget, actually, when I was in the corporate world, I used to go and deliver training across the U.S. and, whatever. And I went to do my first ever training in, it was actually in Canada. And I couldn’t get over how many questions I got asked. So all the way through, they were interrupting me and asking questions. And I said to one of them at the end of it, how come everybody’s got so many questions? Why do they need to know so many things? And they said, we get rewarded in school for asking questions. It’s a really encouraged behavior.

And it is a good behavior to have, but this is the thing, our society, our schooling at the expectations turn us into what we are. And it it’s, it was very much a culture here for children of, you know, be seen and not heard. <Laugh>. So the quiet you are, the better you are. And when you look at which things are being rewarded, where you can see, you know, Americans would be known for being seen to be much more confident and outgoing certainly in my part of the world. And then when you take that into other cultures, when there’s so many different expectations placed on men and women from religious and cultural expectations, then you can see, we do have, we do get put into different boxes that can have an impact on how we’re able to project ourselves and that how confident we feel in different situations. So those things absolutely have to be taken into account.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. Well, and here’s the opening for anyone that’s listening. And even if, if you’re, if you’re inquisitive, like I am, cause I got my hand slapped, right. I asked too many questions and really like, I ask questions to understand the why that’s actually just how I process information. It it’s really hard for me to think without having the information. I’m not great sometimes that I, I just need to understand why. Because then it helps me level and ground myself in the actions that I’m supposed to take. But yet I was met with in, in the culture that I was, you know, work culture that I had with Jenn. We need you to be a yes man. And so, you know, going into this, I love all these real-life examples. Thank you so much to that organization that gave me these fruitful, rich things

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  <Laugh> and there was also a yes ma’am as well. Yeah.

Bridging the Confidence Gap

Jenn DeWall:  Just but like this, I hope that we’re now opening. Because we’re gonna dive into like the tips, right? The tips on how to bridge the confidence gap and no matter where, what chair you’re sitting in right now, what labels identities that you might have attached to yourself because of that upbringing, because of the work experiences know that you always get to choose which ones to put on and to take off. And so keep your mind open, challenge yourself, because Sinead’s gonna walk through how to bridge the confidence gap. Let’s hear it. Where do you start?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Well, a great place to start and this one, my clients get a bit quicky at this. I will, I will have it. But a good place to start is by getting feedback when I have a really specific way of getting feedback, because if you have a confidence issue, the absolute worst question you can ask anybody is what are my weaknesses or what do you think I’m not good at? Or ask them for any negative feedback whatsoever. Now I’m not seeing we go into an alternate reality where we don’t have weaknesses, but think about, well, it would do your confidence. Good to know what I’m strong at. Where do you see me having the most impact? How do I add value? And instead of asking for weaknesses, you know, what could I do more of to have more impact? What things do you think I could do instead? And so you’re asking for constructive forward moving actions that you can actually take. And that is such powerful and amazing feedback because other people can really help you see your blind spots, but they don’t need to shine a light on them so that you can’t move off <laugh> which is often what, what happens.

Jenn DeWall:  Yeah, yeah. Or where we get stuck. We hear it. And we just hear the opinion. Yeah. I like that. You added, it might be the perception, right? The feedback that they’re giving you, but it’s matched with action. So to the leaders that are giving feedback, also thinking about the appropriate action, but if you’re receiving ask for the action yeah. What would that look like? How can you do more? I think that’s really a really important point that you just made. Like, I’m not just gonna take this as a label. I am going to do something with it. Yeah. curiosity. What do you recommend as it term in terms of like who you get feedback from? Like is, are you really supposed to open it up to everyone? Are you supposed to close that a little bit? What’s your guidance for that?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Only ask people that you respect for feedback. So people that you genuinely feel you can learn from and you value their opinion. Like why would you ask somebody who you don’t value in the first place? What they’re gonna share with you? Cause the likelihood is, is it’s gonna, you’re going to sweat over it. You’re going, you know, focus on it. But think about who around me, who in my organization or who that I’ve worked with previously, do I really value and respect and no can give me insightful feedback. That’s gonna benefit me. And those are definitely the people.

Jenn DeWall:  Thank you for putting the guardrails on that because no, do not ask your neighbor that you don’t like your colleague that’s rude to you. Those are the wrong people. And I had a friend that once said, like, I only take feedback if I know it’s coming from a place of love, you know, where I know that they genuinely care. And I thought that was a really cool perspective because people can be really critical sometimes just because they have things going on.

Feedback is Like a Gift—It Should be Wrapped Properly

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Absolutely. Yeah. So feedback should be a gift and we all like gifts that are wrapped properly and have people have taken care in choosing them. And so you don’t want one that you want to put in the trash

Jenn DeWall:  <Laugh> so yeah, absolutely. Or that, that adds to your own head trash. What, so what comes after feedback? So for bridging the confidence gap, the first thing we’re doing is building our awareness and one way to do that is feedback. Yeah. Then what comes after that? So

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Then, right. I have a real thing that you’ve gotta focus on your strengths. So part of your feedback is asking about those strengths. What do you see me doing? Well, how do I have impact, but also do your own inventory of yourself strengths. And I find people can be a bit, Ooh, I don’t know what I’m strong at, but actually your strengths are the things that you do easily. So think about when you just are in your most productive mold and when you are getting things done and you know, you almost get lost in time. You’re in the zone. That is when you are using your absolute strengths. So what is it you are doing and using them. And the magical thing about strengths is that when you use them, they make you feel strong. You automatically feel confident. That is when we are in our best possible place. So your job to perform well in life and for your organization for your business is to use your strengths as often as possible. So now I know what they are, how can I use more of them every day? And you’ll be walking around with like a ninja strength when you’re doing that. You know? Cause it’s all there.

Jenn DeWall:  It’s well, and it’s so important to understand who you are when I was in my twenties. I, you know, got the job that it by my twenties definition was so exciting and so glamorous. And I just wanted to be a buyer one day. Like they get to travel even more. They get to go to fancy, whatever all the perks were. And here’s the thing that I actually was always turning my cheek to my natural strengths are communication. It’s connecting with others. What were your roles when you’re working in a buying office it’s typically more analytical, it’s finance-driven. But because I start, I compared myself, the people that I worked with that were like me, I would always compare myself. Am I good enough for them? Am I, am I doing it? And so then I feel like I almost grabbed their identity of maybe their strengths and their aspirations and made them my own because I wasn’t rooted in my own confidence. And so when I didn’t make it to buyer, it was so devastating for me. I mean, I didn’t leave. I left before I could have gotten to that. But like, it was still devastating to abort that dream because by comparison, that was my dream. Even though it had nothing to do with my strengths, like, and there are people likely sitting there, like telling themselves that they’re not good enough because they’re comparing themselves to the wrong path. Yeah. I’m curious about your thoughts on that.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Well, that’s why you really have to connect in with yourself. It’s, it’s all about you. It’s a bit like we were talking about appearance before we could put way too much on, you know, look at the perfection we need in makeup and hair and everything. That’s put out there on social media. That stuff all makes you feel really bad, but what makes you feel really good is when you get in touch with you and what you love. And when I spoke about my, my really tough time in my career it was because I was in that comparison mode. I wasn’t working to my strengths and when I stopped and just really connected in with what do I love doing? What do I get excited about? Where do I really make the biggest difference? And it was in communicating with people and understanding them and trying to connect with them.

And I had devalued all of those things, cuz I wasn’t good at programming <laugh> But yet nobody could get, you know, none of the programmers could get the right work without me going and connecting with people to find out, well, what really is the problem here? And how can we make that work and what would make a difference for you? And so I was like, yeah, I can’t do what they do. But when I realized, but what I can do is just as important and in a lot situations, even more important, then I was like, ah, now I know my value. And it’s all in that, understanding your strengths. So while it can feel hard, it’s, it’s about tapping into that. And a really simple thing you can do is journal every day and just write down what did I do well today or what wouldn’t have happened today? If I wasn’t there.

Jenn DeWall:  Yes. I love that great tip and great additional story. You gotta see and own those strengths. Don’t hide them. What comes next? So once we understand and identify our strengths and you know, we finally look for ways that maybe we can apply them. Maybe that’s not a new job. Maybe that’s asking for a different opportunity within your role. What comes after that?


Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  So I’m a great believer in preparing. So preparing your messaging, thinking about who am I gonna talk to? What do I want the outcome to be here? What do I want the person to think, feel, see, or do as a result of us speaking. And they’re practicing that. Like what’s the message I need to share. So think about, you know, if you are a big sports person, like Serena Williams is one of my absolute heroes. Do you think she ever got on the court and hadn’t practiced every single type of shop that could come at her, not a chance, but yet we think we can just go and wing it in everyday life and we’re gonna get the results. But now if you practice, you know, here’s what I want. Here’s what I need to see to get it. And then here’s how I need to show up to do that. So it’s it’s message practice and then mindset. How am I showing up to deliver that? So getting myself in the zone to do it,

Jenn DeWall:  Get yourself in the zone message, mindset. What was the next one message.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  So message, practice, mindset!

Jenn DeWall:  Message, Practice Mindset. If you want to be the Serena Williams of your life, not comparing yourself to her, but you do need to prepare for those moments of your own performance. What’s your final step on how to bridge the confidence gap.

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Then it’s all about building your support team around you, your allies and your network because you don’t achieve anything on your own. So reach out, you know, connect with people, let them know what you want to achieve and ask for their help and offer your help. You know, how can I help you achieve what you want to do? But when you have people behind you reaching for you, supporting you, and championing, championing, that’s easy for me to say! Championing you, then things happen. And, that’s when the results really start to multiply. Yeah. And so those are some of the things that I would really help my clients do and relationships will, will get you everywhere.

Where to Find Sinead Sharkey-Steenson

Jenn DeWall:  Oh gosh, we know that relationships are the key to our success because we are interdependent, not independent. Sinead. I have really enjoyed our conversation today. How does our audience get in touch with you?

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Well, the two best places on my website. So and on LinkedIn, I’m Sinead Sharkey-Steenson on LinkedIn. And I love a personal message. Send me a message. Let me know what you thought, how I can help. And I’d be happy to connect

Jenn DeWall:  Sinead, thank you so much for joining our audience today, to talk with the confidence gap, something that I’m gonna say, the majority of people struggle with. Thank you for your time and your expertise and just your passion for the topic and helping to serve. Thank you so much. Sinead

Sinead Sharkey-Steenson:  Oh, thank you for having me. It’s been an absolute joy.

Jenn DeWall:  Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode of The Leadership Habit podcast. I love my conversation with Sinead. I love the topics that we got into. Why are we the way that we are? Would we show up different or how would we show up if we were raised a different way, born in a different environment or a country, so much curiosity and so many questions, but if you want to connect with a Sinead Sharkey-Steenson and I goof up on that name, but it’s Sinead Sharkey-Steenson, you can head on over to her website, And there you can take her free quiz, how to get promoted and receive a tailored set of free career and confidence tools to help you where you want to go. So head on over, you want to take that great quiz to And of course, if you enjoy today’s podcast, share it with a friend, share it with a friend or colleague or a leader that you know, might be struggling with confidence. And if you want to develop your leadership skills, head on over to, we can offer you a two-hour complimentary leadership skills workshop, and we would love to come in and talk with your team. And, of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, leave us a review on your favorite podcast streaming service! Until next time.