By Julie Kogen
Want to test your confidence level and brand as a successful female professional? Become a general contractor, or a surgeon, or even a C-suite exec at a Fortune 500 firm. These fields are known more for the men who fill their ranks (a mere 24 women head F500s, or fewer than 5%). Yet, women who crash through those industries’ glass ceilings often do so by bringing a level of confidence that not only helps fend off the naysayers. It affirms their can-do “brands” in work and life.
Let’s be clear. You can’t become a surgeon or multinational CEO without years of education and intensive training. Nor can you become a general contractor, or GC, like me without years of apprenticeship under a current GC and then passing a grueling exam (18 hours over two days here in Florida).
Like other women who are successful in their careers, I’ve succeeded in this male-dominated industry by more than being smart enough to pass the certification exam or savvy enough to win jobs and earn satisfied, return clients. I’m self-confident. And that affirms in me – and, in return, those I work with – that I’m more than qualified to handle any job I bid on.
Education, training, and years in the trenches take you much of the way along any career path. But confidence is key to traveling that “last mile” that takes you from contractor or senior VP or a surgeon never assigned the most complicated cases, to one trusted enough to handle any case, project, or promotion.
This is no less true if you’re a solo entrepreneur or small business owner. No matter your career path, self-confidence drives your brand every day.
Confidence as a Character Trait
Confidence may come with experience. But confidence is only apparent if it’s part of your character like a trait embedded in your DNA. And how you carry yourself can be infectious. People see confidence and they’re inspired.
That’s not quite right. Confidence isn’t really “shown.” It’s kind of exuded. It permeates what you do, beyond just how you carry yourself. It’s a swagger, not quite braggadocio, though some confidence people may brag about their stature.
So how can you develop the confidence that reveals – outwardly or even subconsciously – volumes about your brand? Consider these seven tips…
- Commit to life-long learning. Continuing education and amassing experience are vital to becoming confident in your chosen career. It’s been many years since I earned my General Contractor’s license, and I still seek out the best teachers and mentors in my industry. Of course, my father – a GC back in Chicago – was my first and best teacher. Prior to starting building on my own in Florida, however, I found a leading South Florida builder willing mentor me. I spent years at his side, with clients, on job sites, in the office. He showed me, for example, how to file a Florida building permit, a nerve-wracking process much more arduous than in Chicago where I had first learned
permitting. He eventually gave me the names of his best subcontractors, most of whom are still on my team today. And even today, when I don’t understand something about painting or plumbing or masonry, I ask my subs. Just because I’m a GC, or you’re a CEO, doesn’t mean you know it all. Even surgeons have to attend Continuing Medical Education courses. I’m sure your industry has a steady stream of conferences and courses. Improving means learning by asking questions of those who have the answers.
- Always aspire for that next ring. Before I became a GC, I taught indoor cycling and yoga. When I started, I didn’t want to just “teach” cycling and yoga. I wanted to be the go-to instructor at the most exclusive country clubs in Palm Beach County. So I sought out the masters in each discipline. After learning, I applied for and, with my new-found pedigree and self-confidence, landed training positions at those country clubs with their very demanding clientele. I still recall driving up to the gates at one such club to teach my first yoga class and thinking, “I’ve arrived.” I get that same feeling now when I am hired for design-build jobs at the same club.
- Avoid the doubters. When I prepared to take the Florida GC examination, many male GCs I knew warned that as a woman, I’d never pass the test. If I did, I’d get “eaten alive” in the hyper-competitive, male-dominated industry. No one, except my family, said, “Good luck.” When I finished the first 4-hour section in 90 minutes, the proctor asked if I was giving up. I left the testing center, took an exercise class, and returned on time for the next section. Doubters and naysayers are toxic. Find your supporters and keep them close. No matter your success, they always will buoy your spirits.
- Play up. Musicians and athletes often improve their performance by playing with those better than themselves. Many CEOs say they’re successful because they’ve surrounded themselves by people smarter than they are. Those most-trusted subcontractors my mentor introduced me to? Each had countless years’ experience over me. Since those introductions, we’ve done magnificent work together and I’ve learned much from them. I bet it’s the same for leaders in your industry.
- Don’t take “No” for an answer. I heard “No” a lot when I started. It often came from people whose work I was negotiating for or had landed and who would try to take advantage of me or push to see whether I would buckle on terms. I still hear “No” or haggling from clients; nothing comes
easyto any GC. But I’m always prospecting and having to balance my desire to achieve someone’s trust, satisfy clients, or earn their referral to a friend.
- Say “No” – or don’t say “Yes” – when you cannot deliver or the job is beneath you. The jobs I take on are $1 million and up with sophisticated, high net-worth clients. I often have to reaffirm myself with every job. So, when a client wanted an add-on to an existing project – and wanted it done by the holidays, which would have been impossible to secure products and schedule already booked subcontractors – I said, “No.” He pushed. I didn’t cave. Ultimately, he understood. Additionally, I only take on high-end, ultra-luxury programs. If I lower my standards and seek the easier mark that’s handyman-caliber work, not only would my subcontractors would never work at that scale, it could show I lack
confidenceto hold my ground.
- You’ve prepared for this moment. Own it. Sure, many confident women leaders have been called pushy, bossy – or worse – when their male counterparts are praised for being successful. Say whatever you want about me; I have a reputation for not taking grief from anyone. To be sure, self-awareness is healthy. I know my own shortcomings and saw the opportunity for additional help. Realizing my time is tight and I cannot always accommodate client meeting requests, I recently hired a job supervisor to offer clients easy access and meeting set up, including on the job site to answer any questions they may have. But I’ve learned to understand myself, my clients, and my own success.
Many successful women have worked hard to arrive where we are. Continued pursuit of healthy self-confidence affirms our brands and helps ensure we’re on the best path for continued success.
For more than two decades, Julie Kogen has been a luxury residential design-build general contractor and real estate broker representing high net worth home-buyer clients in and around Boca Raton, Florida. See her work and learn more about Julie at www.kogendesignbuild.com