What’s Holding You Back? Why I (Finally) Put Myself in the Running for CEO

By Jennifer McCollum on December 20, 2018

Female leader talking to male colleague

As 2018 ends, Jennifer McCollum, CEO of Linkage, reflects on her own leadership journey and a few important things that she’s learned along the way. Here, she explains how she put her Inner Critic (that pesky voice in our heads that can cause us serious self-doubt) in check to take the next step in her career.

Upon my arrival this summer, a few of my colleagues at Linkage shared that they were surprised to learn that a woman had been chosen as CEO for the first time in our 30-year history. The truth is, I was surprised, toonot that I had earned the job, but that I had even put myself in the running.

For the first half of 2018, I took a self-defined sabbatical after more than 20 years of working in the Leadership industry. I knew if I didn’t take this time of reflection, I would risk a reactive move into another role like the one I had left at a publicly traded company. I forced myself to slow down, putting a simple guiding principle in place that I’d recommend to anyone seeking a new job: Each day, I committed to doing one thing for my body, one thing for my spirit, and one thing for my job search.

Frankly, the days were uncomfortable at first. I had to come to terms with some of my own limiting beliefs. And then slowly, over months, the days became completely invigorating as I allowed myself the gift of exploration, connection and focus.

One of my early discoveries of 2018 was that it hadn’t occurred to me I was CEO-ready until my male colleagues told me I was ready.

I’ve run my own consulting firm; I’ve been at the helm of corporate business units; and I’ve engaged with countless impressive women executives. And yet, I hadn’t envisioned the next logical step. As I contemplated the next phase in my career early this year, several male executives told me I should just “go run my own company” or “take over as CEO of a venture in need of a strong leader.” They said this quickly and without thinking, as if it’s a conclusion they drew long ago.

But, here’s the thing: It was an awakening for me.

Why is it that I questioned my readiness for the “big job” when so many trusted men in my life saw me in this role so clearly?

People would not describe me as lacking confidence, but I found reasons to question or delay the move to CEO, including:

  • My oldest kids were approaching college age, and I wanted to be more flexible and available for them;
  • I thought I should take the number-two role at a company for a few years until I’d been properly groomed, and therefore reduce risk of failure;
  • There are sadly still so few role models in my industry with women leadersand especially mothersin the top job; and finally,
  • There was a voice inside me, which at Linkage we refer to as the Inner Critic, whispering that I wasn’t sure I was qualified.

Fast forward six months into my role as CEO of Linkage, a company dedicated to the acceleration of the development and readiness of leaders at all levels, with a specialty in the advancement of women leaders and creating cultures of inclusion.

While the increased awareness of the need for women’s leadership is encouraging, I am a personal testimony to the fact that the hurdles to advancement for women often begin with overcoming our own doubts, and trusting the men and women who believe in us.

Overcoming self-doubt as women leaders is something Linkage researches and studies extensively, so we can support our clients to advance their own women leaders. We’ve published a new book this year targeted at rising women leaders, titled Mastering Your Inner Critic and 7 Other High Hurdles to Advancement, along with a white paper for organizations who are serious about enhancing business outcomes by investing in women’s leadership: Advancing Women Leaders: Changing the Game for Women in the Workplace.

Women leaders, I challenge you in 2019 to look at how you may be limiting your own potential. Is your Inner Critic holding you back from taking the next step in your career? Share your personal experiences and stories with us by leaving a comment. This is a critical conversation we need to continue together. The world needs our leadership.

We’ve got this!


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Posted in Inclusive Leadership, Leadership Development, Women in Leadership

About Jennifer McCollum

Jennifer McCollum is CEO of Linkage, where she oversees the strategic direction and global operations of the Burlington, MA-based company. She has 20 years of experience building and leading businesses in the leadership space, with a focus on leadership development, assessment and analytics. Her area of expertise includes bringing analytic rigor to critical talent decisions by linking leadership behavior to corporate performance outcomes.
3 comments on “What’s Holding You Back? Why I (Finally) Put Myself in the Running for CEO
  1. Tina Warren says:

    Jennifer you are a born leader. So impressed with what you have achieved.

  2. Elizabeth Kirkpatrick says:

    Isn’t it amazing how sometimes our own strengths and abilities are most clearly realized through the eyes of others? Be they male business associates or female friends; their objectivity can be our catalyst. How fortunate for Linkage you put yourself out there. “The Inner Critic” seems an like an apt term for our self-doubts that hold us back. I applaud the concept of facing and challenging them to reach ones potential. That, along with your job seeking advice list of 3, sounds like a good place to start to me. Thanks for sharing your journey. I wish you continued success in 2019 and beyond.

  3. Stephanie says:

    What a great article and reminder to believe in those who believe in you!

    My inner critic pre-WIL:

    “What if you fail?”
    “Are you sure you can handle it?”
    “Why bother when there’s probably someone more qualified than I am?”


    “Why not me?”
    “What have I got to lose?”
    “If they can do it, surely I can too!”

    My parents raised me with the mentality that I can do anything I set my mind to and somewhere along the way I lost sight of that, with no thanks to my inner critique.

    After attending the 2018 WIL in Phoenix, I am now constantly reminding myself that I have a good head on my shoulders and have already achieved so much that previously seemed out of my reach. I will no longer let my doubts hinder my determination or keep me from reaching my goals!

    I am extremely proud to announce that I have just accepted a promotion – a position that I set out to attain in 10 years, took me just under 9!

    Be positive and seize the moment!

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