6 things I learned at Momentum’s confidence workshop at Samford University

Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
Dr. Sharon Melnik spoke at Samford University on January 4. Photo via Momentum

Earlier this month, I headed to Samford University for a professional development workshop called “Confidence When It Counts,” led by expert Dr. Sharon Melnick of Boston. It was part of a new leadership series from Momentum, a Birmingham-based nonprofit that promotes women in leadership across Alabama. So what did I learn? Here are my takeaways.

1. Networking Is Easier Over Bacon

Bacon really does make everything better.

First-class introvert reporting for duty, here. While it was a little intimidating that workshops in the Momentum Leadership Series begin with a one-hour networking breakfast, my fears were unfounded.

I sat down with a random table of ladies and was immediately welcomed into the conversation. A couple of them wanted to know all about Bham Now (name tags with company names are a plus.)

Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
A few of my fellow attendees. The name tags really did help with networking. Photo via Momentum

Bonus: I sat next to a UAB researcher from China. Before moving to Birmingham, she was at the Medical College of Georgia in my hometown of Augusta, so we had lots to talk about. Small world, but this pleasant surprise wouldn’t have found me if I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone.

Also, bacon. Lots and lots of perfectly cooked bacon. (Word on the street is Samford University serves up some mean fried chicken, too.)

Birmingham, Alabama, Samford University
Melnick is an expert from Boston, but Samford provided the location, the breakfast and the view. Photo by Terri Robertson for Bham Now

2. How Gender Factors In

Melnick, who has 10 years of Harvard research to her name, shared that statistics show men and women enter the workforce with the same level of confidence. After two years in the professional world, however, women’s confidence tends to plummet whereas men’s keeps rising. This hit home personally, but I never thought about it in terms of affecting women across the board.

Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
Workshop attendees. Photo via Momentum

3. Everyone’s in the Same Boat

Second introvert hurdle: the workshop involved activities that required more talking. We partnered up and shared our “story,” meaning the best version of ourselves, without dinging ourselves for this or that. As awkward as this was for me, it was more difficult for my conversation partner—which was crazy, because she was awesome.

In addition to feeling camaraderie on this point, I realized how important it is to be a cheerleader for others.

Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
Andrea McCaskey, director of programs at Momentum (left), with a workshop attendee. Photo via Momentum

4. Thank You, It’s True

Next up: learning to accept compliments. When I receive a compliment, I tend to ramble away about why my accomplishments are not such a big deal.

In the second half of the partner exercise, we reflected back the awesome things we’d learned about our partners. The person on the receiving end had to respond to each statement with “Thank you, it’s true.” Period, end of story.

This felt weird at first, but after a while, it felt natural. Give this a try with a friend for practice. Out in the real world, Melnick said, you can just say “thank you,” and repeat the “it’s true” part in your mind. Owning your accomplishments is a big confidence booster.

Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
Melnick signing books post workshop. Photo via Momentum

5. Determining My Confidence Type

Turns out I’m predominantly a perfectionist. Not a surprise. But what was a surprise was learning how being a perfectionist can take away from becoming a confident leader. All the self-criticism that comes with the pursuit of perfection can be exhausting and self-defeating—and it can halt professional development.

If you want to find out if you are a perfectionist, a performer, a protector or—the sweet spot—a confident leader, take the quiz at confidencetype.com. You’re probably a combination of all four, with one dominant type. At the end, you’ll learn the pros and cons of each.

Being a perfectionist, a performer or a protector all have one big con in common.

“You’re monitoring people’s perception of you to determine how to feel yourself.”

Dr. Sharon Melnick

In other words, we’re outsourcing our confidence, but true confidence comes directly from within. I’ll have to work on this one, but knowing is half the battle.

Birmingham, Alabama, Momentum, Women's Leadership, professional development
Momentum CEO April Benetollo, Melnick and workshop attendee. Photo via Momentum

6. “Be Impeccable for Your 50 Percent.”

We’ve heard this before. We can’t control other people. We can only control our own actions and reactions. So show love, feel lovable, be direct, stick to your vision—and let the rest be.

“A leader is only as effective as how far into the future she can envision and lead people.”

Dr. Sharon Melnick

When all was said and done, I learned some great tips at this professional development workshop in the Momentum Leadership Series. The tricky part will be continuing to work on what I learned.

Meanwhile, when I’m feeling off my game, I can do this little breathing exercise Melnick taught us, and you can too. Close your eyes. Touch your fingertips together as if you’re holding a ball, and place them by your diaphragm. Breath in for five counts, hold for five counts and slowly release for five counts. Repeat for two minutes. It really does help.

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