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You’ve just pulled off the negotiation of the decade. You’re strong, capable, and at the top of your game. You’re an inspiring leader.

Then . . . Wham! Your CHRO makes a comment about your energetic style that takes you back to fourth grade when you got consistent messages about the social hazards of showing off and being a know-it-all.

You were placed in the advanced math and science groups, wrote the class newspaper, and were chosen to play not one, but two instruments in music. As social punishment you weren’t invited to the cool girls’ birthday parties and often had to sit with the dorky girls at lunch.

Even riding the bus to school was torture–you worried about what seat would be open for you. You recognized the rebuff when the popular section had no saved seat with your name on it.

Seriously? Do we really go back there? Well–if we’re totally honest–at points of high stress and fatigue . . . yes, we do. The good news is that with a little effort and awareness we don’t stay in that fourth grade story for very long.

How to respond to the sudden wave of fury and sorrow enveloping you . . .

You’ve got three choices:

  1. Lash out and defend yourself
  2. Make yourself small and less threatening
  3. Put on your glasses and look at the story more closely

Take the Offense

Street fighting certainly has had a place in your rise to the top. You’ve often had to go toe-to-toe with an adversary. Your quick-thinking and confidence make it easy for you to jump into the fray and come out on top (this has worked especially well with the men in your sphere). In-your-face challenge is an expedient path to asserting your authority.

Back Off

This less confrontational approach has its place at times. It goes under the category of “choosing your battles.” Much has been written about the hazards of this approach for strong women leaders.

The danger here’s especially pertinent when the challenge is a personal one–and one that gets under your skin and gives space to that fourth grader who’s been slammed one too many times for comfort.

Examine the Story

Where’s the criticism really coming from? Is the CHRO Jealous? Threatened? Envious? Insecure?

Here’s a Bold and Fearless question I often ask my executive clients: What else could be going on here? What if it wasn’t an attack or even a snarky comment at all, and you made the whole thing up because you were tired and felt exposed, and not quite as confident as you’re showing the world?

Take a deep breath and listen fully before you plan your response. How can you tap into your leadership talent and turn the CHRO into an ally? Where’s the challenge coming from? How true is the assertion? How true is the story you’ve told yourself?

What does the other person need and how can you turn this into a win-win?

You’ve reacted with all three approaches in the course of your career. How will you choose to show up? How will you set the tone for your organization and lead by example?

An Executive Leadership Coach is a powerful ally to help you choose the best approach to create opportunities. Often situations become clear just by having a trusted advisor. For more ideas on being your best Bold and Fearless self, please contact me at [email protected] or visit

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