Leadership Series: Just Believe!

Sticky Believe In Yourself
Image by performersheart.com

Last month at Modesto Junior College, I addressed over 100 Latina college administrators, educators, and students as the opening keynote speaker for the 29th Annual Latina Leadership Network of the California Community Colleges. As I prepared for the speech, butterflies fluttered in my stomach.  I always get nervous before stepping out of my comfort zone. I had never spoken to a group made up exclusively of women.

In the days leading up to the conference, my usual “pre-game” nerves evolved into outright self-doubt. All kinds of questions swirled in my mind, slowing down my preparation process. What did I have to offer to smart and ambitious women? Why did the organizers invite me to open this prestigious event? Was I even qualified to speak at an academic gathering?

Does this sound familiar?

It’s natural for anyone to be a little anxious prior to making a big presentation at work or preparing for something new. Adrenalin generated by those feelings usually helps people focus on getting the job done. We Latinos have an additional burden layered on top of the normal sensation of excitement. The crippling effect of self-doubt leads to questioning our worth, which ultimately can keep us from taking chances.

Why does this happen? The answer is surely complex. Part of it might be our own cultural aversion to taking professional risks. George Lopez describes this phenomenon in his hilarious “Team Leader” bit. Society also has a way of making Latinos, even those in leadership positions, appear a cut below non-Latino colleagues.

The good news is that this sense of inadequacy can be overcome. The solution is for you to just believe in yourself. Sounds easy, huh? Unfortunately, confronting the fear of taking risks and fighting negative stereotypes can be discouraging and tiring. Thus, implementation of the remedy can be challenging due to these hurdles.

I don’t mean the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy that seems to be all the rage today. That doesn’t work. You should never fake it! By definition, that means that you’re not qualified for the position you seek. I’m talking about taking stock of your successes and confirming that you’re the real (not fake) deal.

I’m currently working with a Latina mid-level executive who’s contemplating a career change. She has extensive experience in her field and has progressively advanced to higher leadership roles in the organization. Her teams have earned several industry awards in addition to the individual recognition mementos that gather on her desk.

She has three options in front of her: (1) make a lateral move into management at her organization’s headquarters, (2) seek advancement opportunities within the industry, or (3) stay in her current role. I’ve advised her to take a serious look at options #2 and #1, in that order. Her initial response was to question her own qualifications and preparedness.


We did a simple exercise to get that absurd notion out of her mind. She dusted off her resume (which was a decade old) and started listing her professional accomplishments and accolades. When the dust settled, she had an amazing resume that impressed even herself! She had been so busy being successful that she didn’t realize the extent of her experience and preparation.

Once it was on paper, I could see in her eyes that she truly believed in herself. She’s still nervous about the possibility of taking a leap. The natural sense of anxiety that comes with stretching one’s boundaries will still linger as she thinks about her next move. At least she now believes that she has what it takes to achieve her goals.

The moral of this story is to block out influences that are barriers to your success, obstacles like fear of taking professional risks and the negative effect society has on our tendency toward self-doubt. These are powerful forces in keeping Latinas and Latinos from striving to occupy the corner office.

As Latino professionals, we’ve educated ourselves and work hard. We need to learn how to take stock of accomplishments to remind ourselves that we have professional value and worth. This will give us the confidence needed to make the next career move.

Back at Modesto Junior College, as the conference chair introduced me, I reflected on three decades of leadership experience. I had once spoken to over 1,500 politicians at the National Association of Latino Elected Officials in Dallas, Texas, and addressed thousands of people at San Jose State University Chicano Commencement and high school graduation ceremonies.

Stepping up to the podium, I started out by talking about how proud I was of my wife Sandra, an outstanding elementary school principal, and my two daughters in college. Since they’re strong women, I assured the audience, I was totally comfortable in a room of talented and successful Latinas. When the room erupted in applause, I settled down. It was an inspiring evening for me.

Following my own advice, I overcame the self-doubt that had consumed me earlier in the week. Once I took stock of my career, I was able to believe in myself again. You can do this too.


Are you thinking about the next move in your career? You should attend my workshop this summer:

ESEReport.com Leadership Series presents

Foundations of Leadership Workshop

Saturday, July 16, 2016

By sharing engaging stories and colorful anecdotes from 30 years of leadership experience in business, politics, education, and community service, my fast-paced and interactive workshop will help you achieve your professional goals!

 Workshop participants will learn how to:

  • Become a Leader, Not Just a Manager
  • Harness the Power of Productive Relationships
  • Communicate for Success

Click here for tickets and more information: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/foundations-of-leadership-workshop-tickets-24943731372

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