5 simple ways to learn by doing 🎙️

We’re all familiar with the research: as women, we are less likely to put ourselves forward for promotions. We expect to know the whole job before starting (and undersell what we already know!). Our comfort zones are, well, comfy. The unknown? Not so much. 

The power of ‘yes’ 📣

You know the thing you’ve been holding yourself back from? It’s time to say ‘yes’ to it. The latest PowrUp episode challenges you to challenge your fears and GO FOR IT – take the risk opportunity and back yourself.  

It’s like riding a bike 🚴

Remember when you first rode a bike (or learned to swim, climb, and tie your laces…). You probably watched others, got some advice, mastered trial and error – and did all of this as a five-year-old! Yes, you’re already an expert at learning while doing; you already know how to problem-solve your way to success. You’ve mastered the ability to digest information, put it into practice, reflect and analyse, and then give it another go (*rinse and repeat*). 

You’ve heard the term, ‘fake it ’till you make it’? We prefer ‘you got this; it’s ok to learn while doing’. Here are five ways to back yourself to do it:

1. Act with confidence

From superhero poses to documenting your successful track record, there are lots of hacks to boost your confidence. However, researchers have found that the fastest way to build confidence is to make the choice to have it

2. Focus on the fundamentals

You don’t have to get a PhD on every subject, a broad understanding of lots of things is a superpower in itself. When tackling something new, identify the most critical elements of the role/task/skill – and just focus on those. Managing people for the first time? Master the 1:1 meeting before perfecting the art of delegation. 

3. Talk to people who’ve done it

Look through your network (and the networks of your network), and identify a few people that have ‘been there, done that’. You don’t always need to get a formal mentor, sometimes, coffees with a handful of experienced people will give you everything you need to know about how to master the new role/skill/task. 

4. University of Google

Between Medium, Reddit, Linkedin, businesses and experts who openly share their expertise – the internet has you covered. Want to learn how to ‘successfully manage a project’? The 1.3 billion results on Google are there to support your efforts. ‘How to budget and forecast’? 152 million results. You’ll be amazed at how much you can digest in 2-3 hours of focused research. 

5. Hone your observation skills

Be the most curious person in the room. During meetings, focus on who’s leading well and why. While at events, analyse the speakers to understand who is nailing body language and delivery. Witness someone diffuse a challenging situation? Spot a person with effortless networking skills? Observe and apply. Eventually the skills you mimic will become your own.

Take action

You know when you’re faced with an interesting opportunity, you can feel it in your gut. Next time one is presented to you (no matter how small it is), practise taking action. If things work out, you’ve learned you can do more than you thought. If they don’t? You now know you can handle more than you think. 

Want more examples, insights and tips?

On episode 5 of PowrUp, we share our stories of saying yes to the unknown, and how we built self-believe through three simple tools. Listen now

What if it all works out? The power of positivity

Michael Jordan is perhaps the best basketballer of all time – and half of one of the world’s most profitable partnerships. He’s athletic, talented and driven, but these are traits shared by every professional sportsperson. So, compared to the best, what gave him an almost superhuman ability to stand out?  

His mindset.

Jordan isn’t superhuman – he battled nerves like the rest of us. What set him apart was a supreme mastery of self-doubt. He wasted very little time imagining things going wrong and focused all that energy on planning for it to go well. He had such control of this ability, and he could turn almost anything into fuel. Critical feedback? It was catnip. At the mere suggestion, he wasn’t good enough; he could find a new gear and achieve seemingly impossible physical feats. 

We’ve heard enough success stories to know what you’re thinking. Good for him. With his incredible stature and talent, a bit of self-belief is easy. 

Incredible talent, you say? Are you talking about the guy who got cut from his varsity basketball team for ‘not being good enough’? Jordan’s place in history may now seem inevitable, but he succeeded despite experiencing the kind of setbacks that would make most people quit. Think about all the times you’ve doubted yourself after strong external invalidation of your abilities. Maybe Nat could have been an Olympic swimmer after all. 😉

Positivity is a practice

Last week, Kristen joined fellow Powrsuiter Jodi Willocks at the Wellington launch of consultancy Bastion Shine (yes, please send all the invites our way!). Also on the list were members of the world-champion Black Ferns rugby team. When we say world champion, we mean six-time world champion; these women are good. However, when co-captain Kennedy Simon stood up to speak, she recounted a tough period leading up to the world cup. They’d underperformed on a European tour, and despite overwhelming evidence of their abilities, self-doubt had well and truly embedded itself. 

Then they received this challenge: “what if it all goes right?”.

That (plus a lot of internal work!) was enough to change their mindset. And it led to a record-breaking performance that redefined the place of women’s sports in popular culture. Those of us who watched the final still tear up when talking about it, but perhaps instead, we should just tear a leaf out of their book and embrace the mindset that led to their success. Because if they can do it, why not you?

Get your hopes up!

Common knowledge (and more than a few studies) recognises that success in sports is 90% mental. It’s absurd how little we apply that philosophy to our own careers, and even more absurd how often we default to doing the exact opposite.

Thankfully, failure no longer correlates with death, but our brains don’t seem to have caught up. What may have served us well when looking into a prehistoric predator’s face is limiting when facing a career challenge opportunity. Even with very little on the line, women tend to shy away from situations that put us at risk of failing. We can default to negativity when applying for a new role, trying a new sport, or learning about topics like finance. We overanalyse all the ways things might go wrong but ignore how it could go well.

Here’s a wee truth bomb for you; when you want something, your hopes are already up. Planning for failure doesn’t protect you from the pain of it; it will still hurt. Why put the time, effort and energy behind the outcome you want the least? When we put it like that, it does feel counterintuitive, doesn’t it?

We talk a lot about having a growth mindset these days. Most of us now believe that our abilities aren’t fixed, and that we can learn and improve. Let’s go one step further and imagine the results. Imagine what that life will look like if it all goes right. 

Then go ahead and do it.

30 second action:

Think back to when you took a risk. Remember how you felt at the time? How did it turn out in the end? What did you learn from it?

Are you managing or leading?

Turns out management really is the problem

When managers account for roughly one in every ten employees, it might come as no surprise that they place an outsized burden on an organisation’s costs and complexity. As a result, organisational structures are constantly being reworked to address demands for efficiency

While many think the titles are interchangeable, managers and leaders actually play very different (and very important) roles – and very few people are good at both. Once you understand the difference, you’ll be able to recognise the two hats and know the right one to put on in every situation.

Management is a role, but leadership is a state of being

Leadership has nothing to do with job titles. 

Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Nelson Mandella are just some of the great leaders of the last century. The commonalities of this varied group perfectly define the label; they can inspire people to buy into a shared vision and give them the confidence to achieve it. 

On top of empathy, charisma and a powerful sense of purpose, these household names have one other vital trait in common; they weren’t promoted to a formal leadership position. Their influence didn’t come from sitting at the top of a hierarchy; it resulted from an incredible ability to inspire change.

Leaders use influence, managers require power – and a manager’s power is bestowed on them by their job title. Within an organisational hierarchy, managers are responsible for controlling how work gets done. They are generally accountable for delivering outputs, which can lead to micromanagement. And while this may have worked in a production line, it can backfire in modern workplaces.

Managers execute a vision, leaders create it

As you rise through the ranks, the importance of exhibiting leadership traits increases accordingly. At an executive level, leaders are expected to see the big picture; understand the business as a whole system, and see how the moving parts interact. They deal in nuance and uncertainty and are adept at juggling competing priorities. Great leaders become symbolic figures; without relying on individual relationships, they can bring people together and engage, empower, and motivate them to achieve their vision. 

Where leaders are artists, managers are technicians. Their role has a narrow focus; to execute the vision. A good manager can understand their team’s tasks and ensure they get done; they are organised, detail-focused, and tactical. They rely heavily on their ability to closely oversee the flow of work, which has become more difficult in a remote/hybrid world. 

Because a manager’s primary focus is on the outputs (not the people performing them), they can make poor leaders. A study of 10,000 leaders within Google found that technical ability came last on the top 8 traits employees identified in an effective leader. We see the irony as organisations tend to promote technically sound experts to leadership positions.

How to show leadership at any level 

While the title of ‘manager’ is only ever assigned, leadership can be exhibited in any situation. We see examples of it everywhere, from the friend who organises a book club to students who speak out against gun violence. Within an organisation, ‘leaders’ are found at more than just senior levels. They’re easy to spot; they’re usually the people others look to for advice and guidance.

The transition can be extremely challenging for those thrust into a formal leadership role (congratulations!). The skills that got you into the position aren’t the ones to make you any good at it. Adding to this seismic shift is a challenge unique to high achievers; they are used to being good at what they do. 

Becoming a good leader at any level can mean putting the skills you’ve honed for years aside and learning an entirely new set almost from scratch. So, regardless of whether you’ve landed a leadership role or are starting in an entry-level position, it’s time to get practising:

Look across, not within
Managers are specialists, but leaders are generalists. To become a good leader, you must move outside your functional comfort zones and look outwards to the bigger picture. Whatever you’re working on, take the time to understand its broader impacts and collaborate with people from other business areas. Especially if it’s an area you need to gain more knowledge of. When making a strategic decision, learn how it relates to the broader competitive and economic environment.

Navigate competing demands
Learn how to make decisions for the good of the whole organisation, not just your area. Departments often compete for budget and people, but leaders must make trade-offs. Next time you’re working on a project, consider the desired outcomes and consider how that might impact your behaviour.

Build empathy over logic
Leaders empower people to achieve results rather than focusing on the outputs they need to deliver. Are you able to succinctly communicate the strategy you’re working towards? Can you align it with the values of the people you work alongside? Have you asked for critical feedback recently?

30 second action:

The next time you’re in a group situation (or watching a reality TV show!), identify the most influential person. No, they aren’t always the loudest. Who does the rest of the group look to for decision-making or to give advice and recommendations? Title aside, they are the leader.



I have some feedback for you…

Have you ever spotted someone with spinach in their teeth and didn’t say anything? You’re not alone. A recent study showed that over 98% of people withhold feedback, even when there’s very little on the line – despite most of us wishing we received a lot more of it.

If you’re one of 63% of employees wanting more feedback, our bet is that your workmates are falling short because they’re deeply uncomfortable delivering it. We live in a knowledge economy, where communication, critical thinking, agility and problem-solving are essential skills. Yet, leaders rarely receive formal feedback training and are ill-prepared to provide it. Madness.

Meaningful feedback directly correlates with high performance, so it’s vital to seek it out – even if “I have some feedback for you” are the six most feared words in workplace vernacular. The biggest impact you can have on the amount you’re given is by focusing on how you receive it, so here’s how to turn on the tap:

1. Short-circuit your defensive instincts

Think of feedback as a gift. The giver doesn’t want to hurt your feelings, and your response will hugely impact whether they’ll give you that gift again. 

While we all recognise that feedback is helpful, fear of failure can cause our lizard brains to initiate fight, flight or freeze mode. Our amygdala can’t tell the difference between physical and psychological threats and will jump in to ‘save’ us by overriding our logical brains – leading to an irrational (and sometimes embarrassing) response. 

We’ve all been guilty of defensiveness when hearing something less than glowing about ourselves – especially if it hits a little too close to home. Fortunately, the best antidote is mindfulness. If you feel your heart rate rising, start by saying ‘thank you’, then pause, take a deep breath and pay attention to the physical changes in your body. This will give you those vital seconds to gather yourself and convey your appreciation (even if you don’t feel it yet!).

2. Listen to understand

We all think that we are good listeners, but research shows we only remember 25-50% of what we hear. When it comes to feedback, active listening is critical to understanding the message, not just what you assume it might be. Not convinced? Watch Couples Therapy.

It can be hard to rearrange your features into a ‘tell me more’ expression when someone has just delivered an emotional sucker punch. So try this tactic: repeat back the key points as you heard them. It’ll force your brain to focus on listening to understand instead of thinking about how you’ll respond.

While some can immediately respond to feedback in an elegant manner, most of us are safer sticking with questions to ensure we digest the detail. It’s ok to finish the conversation with, “Thanks for the feedback! I’m going to think about it a bit more and get back to you”. Then take the time to go for a walk, drink, or cry because this stuff is hard. 🫶

3. Create and share your action plan

Your actions after receiving feedback are an excellent opportunity to develop your leadership skills. Even if you wind up disregarding some points (and that’s ok, you don’t need to accept everything!), you’ll likely identify a few things you’re happy to work on.

Firstly, validate the feedback. Opinions are always valuable, but they’re sometimes inaccurate. When dealing with a sample size of one, consider going over the key points with some trusted colleagues. It might be tempting to share your emotional response, or shoulder tap people who dismiss the feedback, but resist that urge! 

Secondly, develop a short list of improvements and start implementing them. Begin with visible actions, so your colleagues benefit from the immediate effects – they’ll respect your commitment to improving yourself. 

Finally, thank the person who gave you the feedback and share your actions. There’s nothing like creating a positive feedback loop to inspire more of it. 

Join the conversation on LinkedIn

30 Second action

Before your next meeting, identify one attendee you trust to be honest. Share that you are trying to improve your meeting effectiveness and ask them to spot something you might be able to improve. Put into practice what you’ve just learned about receiving feedback!

Fear of failure is failing women

At thirteen, Julia Boorstin’s mum told her that women would have equal footing in the workplace by the time she grew up. Now a senior business journalist in her forties, she could be forgiven for wondering when exactly adulthood kicks in. 

Instead, two decades and one book later, Boorstin has turned her mum’s failed prophecy into a study of the women who defy the leadership odds. This tiny group (8% of CEOs and 2% of VC-funded founders) displays surprisingly diverse skill sets; however, she found that their commonalities are far more striking. “Across the board, they all have a growth mindset, combining humility and competence. And that seemed essential”. 

Standford professor Carole Dweck is the brains behind the now ubiquitous theory of growth mindset – the belief that ability isn’t fixed but can be improved. She found that young girls were often told they were smart, embedding the belief that capability is innate. In contrast, teachers and parents usually told boys to try harder, setting an expectation that they could develop new skills. The unsurprising result is that, while no one loves to fail, women take it particularly hard – and this fear of failure can cause women to fumble on their way to the top. 

The frenemy you need to ditch

Attempts to avoid the shame associated with failure lead many women to limit their choices and take fewer risks than their male counterparts. It’s why women are less likely to take demanding courses, negotiate for what they deserve, and don’t apply for jobs unless they believe they’re 100% qualified. Extrapolate it out, and it’s easy to connect the missing dots all the way to the top. Speaking of the top, Boorstin found that the women who make it are almost unanimously united in the rare belief that setbacks are simply steps towards success. 

Here’s how these extraordinary women turn failure into upwards force:

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

Leaders with a growth mindset see failure as a learning opportunity (F.A.I.L = First Attempt In Learning). They accept that trying new things invariably leads to mistakes and develop resilience by pushing through the tough times and bouncing back.

Bumble CEO Whitney Wolfe Herd encourages women not to be scared of ‘what ifs’ because she believes the only failure is not trying at all. According to Wolfe Herd, how a person handles fear can determine whether they are successful or not. “I think fear of the unknown and perceived failure is what holds people back,” she says. “I am more scared of complacency than having something not work out. I’d rather take a leap of faith and fall than stand on the edge forever.”

Like everything, practice makes perfect. Take Mrika Nikҫi, a 16-year-old who has climbed the seven highest peaks on seven continents. She’s made a habit of pushing herself to her limit and, as a result, has increased her tolerance for discomfort. We aren’t all Mrika, but we can follow her strategy – embrace difficult situations, see them through and learn from mistakes – even if your first few mountains look more like a molehill.  

Back yourself to learn by doing

You’re probably aware that men are confident with 60% of the required ability, but women feel they need to check every box before applying for that shiny promotion or project. Even if you don’t have all the specific experience required, you’ll probably find reframing your relevant strengths and expertise may be enough to land you the job. So instead of giving up before you start (the only real failure!), back yourself to fill any skill gaps through on the job learning.

Aristotle wrote, “for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In and Option B, encourages women to stop thinking, “I’m not ready,” and start thinking, “I want to do that – and I’ll learn by doing it.” Nat and Kristen? We devoted a whole PowrUp podcast episode to how we built self-belief by saying ‘yes’.

30 SECOND ACTION

The first step in seeking out failure is recognising your instinct when presented with a growth opportunity.

Think about a time recently when you’ve had the chance to do something different. Was there an opportunity to learn a new skill? Take on a new challenge at work? Run a workshop?

It doesn’t matter whether or not you said ‘yes’ and followed through (although we’d love to hear if you did!). What’s more valuable is recognising how you felt and if the fear of failure kicked in. How might you approach a similar opportunity next time?.

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