The Science of People

We’re Changing the Story About Women In Leadership: Helping Women Be Audacious

What's your story

Lessons in female leadership

By Susan Van Klink


(Note: this is the 5th in blog series: “Lessons in Female Leadership” about perspectives in moving women from competence to confidence in business leadership roles.)


This month, I fulfilled a bucket list item. Our company hosted a Women’s Leadership retreat with a cohort of 20 wickedly smart and wonderful women who are rocking their careers. They came to learn more about themselves and where they might go next in their career, and they left enthused, not only for their own future, but to teach more to other women and help pull them up to their potential.

Over the three day event, we discussed the narrative that has been the unfortunate headline for women in business for decades: that while they are wholly competent to drive and lead businesses (often with better results), they are consistently less confident in their individual abilities to do so and / or their willingness to absorb the personal costs of success. We shared our own stories, both the egregious and the empowering, and the impacts that they had on our careers, plus our collective successes in beginning to move the needle. Some of those inspiring stories are already captured as guest blogs on our website and are definitely worth reading.

This event and the conversations we had inspired me. Women can change the story about how they lead and about how they shed the shackles of the “imposter” syndrome that has made us feel unworthy of roles that we are absolutely capable of owning!

Here are four observations on how women can take control of their career narratives:

1. Know yourself.

Take appropriate stock of your strengths and successes to remind yourself what you are capable of… and have a track record to prove it! Then line up a list of what’s holding you back.

In his CEO research, our company’s founder, Dr. Larry Cash, contrasted male and female CEO’s willingness to trust themselves enough to take a risk, based on their own track records. His analogy: jumping from a tall building with a hang glider. Men overwhelmingly are “game” to try and women to hold back. You might say it’s a matter of common sense, but this really boils down to self-belief and manifests itself in the workplace with men jumping at new opportunities —even without the required skills and successes— while women have a tendency to hold back out of fear or lack of self-confidence.

As our CMO, Lisa Hartley, reports in her blog on Silicon Valley women, it’s all about being willing to Lean In and take the shot.


2. Have an accurate self-assessment.

As intuitive and self-aware as many women feel that they are, most of us can’t accurately assess ourselves. That’s why assessments rooted in what we think about ourselves don’t work: they play back what we think we know, but not our true preferences, which are often “hidden” in the way we behave.

And what we might unknowingly hide from ourselves, likewise might evade our colleagues and employers —even when it is a great behavioral attribute that could be a difference-maker in the right role or project. Moreover, it might keep us from asserting not only the right role for ourselves, but also ensuring the right environment. How many times have you taken a job in a culture that doesn’t have people who are equally bright and reflect the same values?


3. Know your “self-talk” and what tracks need to change.

Most of us are skilled at projecting a positive, curated “social self” where we deftly pick and choose our best events and wins to showcase on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. Yet personally, we still tend revisit and lock-in a self-narrative that over-amplifies our perceived short-comings and inflates the degree of difficulty of projects and roles that are new to us. How can you advance your personal success if you can’t really hear the underlying talk track that you’re telling yourself about your career that may be holding you back?


4. Leverage behavioral leadership programs — which will not only help you find your path they’ll help you own your path.

When you clearly understand your behavioral preferences around lifestyle, problem-solving, networking, communication, and more, then you can connect that with your expertise to find and pursue paths you might not have previously recognized as the “perfect fit” for what and how you lead your life. This insight powers women to take the right calculated risks and play to win.


I took this role at SuccessFinder with full insight on all of the above. In part, that insight came from using my results on the SuccessFinder assessment, which taught me a lot about my behavioral make-up and how it powers —or in some cases, hinders— my success. I’m proud that we also offer specific women’s leadership programs to take that behavioral context and help individuals and companies build on it to find and develop women leaders at all levels of the organization, including the C-suite (more information available here.

We are bridging the gap between competence and confidence and helping women rewrite their leadership stories to deliver their most audacious impact to business.

How cool that I get to deliver on my bucket list – helping other women succeed – every day.

Got perspective on releasing your audacity? Would love to hear it!


About the author: Susan Van Klink is the General Manager and Senior Vice President at SuccessFinder. A seasoned executive in the Human Resource software technology market, she has expertise in running operations, sales and strategy at leading companies including SuccessFactors, Taleo and Select Minds. A charismatic, driven and empathetic manager, Susan continues to build skills to support her innate behavioral DNA. She can be reached at







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