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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

People hated me for this but it turned into an asset

INVITATION Grab an ice-cream or frappe and come to the “Beach Edition” of the Leadership Strategy Café which will include myself, Prof Dunaway (who leads the world famous craniofacial unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children) and other interesting characters. Why not take a moment out of your holiday break, while your head is clearer, and take some time to reflect on strategy, purpose and focus for when you return? 17th August 2017, 8.30 to 8.55 am BST

Register for the webinar here



One of the issues that professionals, especially women, struggle with is visibility. It’s one of the Wise Wednesdays (link) I’ve received the most feedback for.

There’s so much inner-conflict around personal visibility, you could script an infinite Game of Thrones.

As a professional, you may want recognition and validation but not to be “too much” or overstep some boundary of civility and acceptability when expressing your views.

You may know you’ve got a valid point at a meeting, but you’d rather play the “long game” and be seen as a “safe pair of hands” who won’t rock the boat.

Or perhaps you’re just not into self-promotion because that’s for insecure people who are overcompensating…

It’s normal to feel tension between the desire for belonging/respect in the group and the need for freedom and self-expression.

But getting the recognition your work deserves doesn’t have to be such a tortured affair.

Besides, if you’re good at your job and deliver consistently; if you’ve got a level of experience that gives you unique and novel insights; if you’ve got the evidence that you’re a adding value to your organisation or field…why shouldn’t you speak up? What’s the use in hiding?

As always, self-awareness is the key (see video for a summary of the two important ideas to be aware of in terms of visibility).


When I was 14 years old, I decided that I wanted to know everything I could about the world. I had an insatiable appetite for knowledge and read everything – my parents’s library, encyclopaedias (remember those?), random history books - anything I could get my hands on.

This sort of hunger for knowledge was encouraged in the Soviet style education system I was raised in.

In fact, people remember me from university for going up in my red trainers to the speaker after every lecture asking for points of clarification…

However, some people found it annoying. Some didn’t hide their disdain. In the UK, where understatement and effortless brilliance are the norm, asking too many questions and trying to get to the bottom things so overtly was not cool. I guess I looked like an eager beaver if not a disturber of the peace…

I wasn’t being rude or pushy but I was overstepping an invisible cultural line.

The truth is, I wasn’t really aware of what people thought about me.

In the words of Katherine Johnson (the first woman to get her name on a technical report in her division at NASA): "I knew it was there, but I didn't feel it."

For her story, see the fantastic Hidden Figures movie which tells of the super-talented (black) women who helped to launch NASA and the first missions in space. performed the functions done by computers today.

Of course, they were aware of the limiting cultural norms around them but they knew they were brilliant and demanded recognition, helping to erode gender and racial segregation in the process.

Fast forward ten years: I raise my hand to ask a difficult question in a lecture filled with the great and the good of medical science. The editor of the Lancet takes my question and asks me to: “be nice”. I guess I had a growing reputation…

Following that question, the eminent person who was to open up the doors of academia and allow me explode my knowledge of public health and the scientific method came up to me and offered his help.

This single event meant that four years later I was able to leapfrog into the jobs I dreamt of doing as at university and work on national and international level health policy.

Today, my relentless hunger to get to the bottom of things helps me change the lives of my clients. I help them to open their minds and hearts to new perspectives and step with courage into the future that makes them feel alive.


Interestingly, research around negotiations shows that women are happier to negotiate on behalf of someone else. In fact, they outperform men when they are acting on behalf of someone else (and do worse when they are representing themselves).

Sure there are structural drivers shaping expectations around your behaviour (as a woman or a man) and these need to be recognised, if only to ignore them subsequently.

But would you rather tow the line and go home feeling rotten? Or get out of your comfort zone and see what’s possible?

Why not sit down, right now, and write the story of your work so far. The highs and the wonderful experiences they brought you (this will make you feel good); the lows and what allowed you to overcome them (this will make you feel powerful)? Most importantly, see the golden thread that ties the story together – that’s what you’re about at your deepest core. Then bring this into conversation so that people see the real you and understand what you’re capable of. Not everyone will appreciate it but the right people will want to work with you.


Change your mindset from hiring out your value to owning it.

If you don’t bother to own your value and talent, be sure that someone else will and they will use it to serve their own selfish agenda. You’ll be left with crumbs and confusion wondering why the world is so unfair…

Why not face the discomfort of being a leader and practise talking about your achievements, your vision of things and why it could be the best thing since sliced bread?

Now, if you just want to have a quiet life and feel that you’re safe from criticism, rejection and any form of pain, then, of course, just stay under the radar and take what you’re given.

My philosophy doesn’t resonate with everyone.

I work with people who’ve reached the point of no return and are ready to let go of old notions that get in the way of their authentic, self-defined success.

They’re ready to say: No. They’re prepared to negotiate with wisdom; learn how to articulate their value and why they should be heard or given a pay rise, promotion or top job.

There’s often a shock at how easy it can be and horror at how close they were to giving up.

Remember there are worse things than getting out of your comfort zone and losing (the illusion of) security…and that is to live in a guilded cage of norms and expectations dimming your light, and being sucked dry of your energy.

Not on my watch.

Have a great week,


Transformational Coach and Consultant

If you’re fed up with the treadmill and are prepared to understand that you can push the boundaries further in your career to have more time, space, money and fulfilment, let’s talk. Email me with “I want to talk” in the headline and tell me a little about your situation ( I’ll get back to you within 24 hours.

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