June 13, 2024  

6 ways to silence self-doubt at work

Karen Jordan, PBNA Chief Supply Chain Officer, explains how taking risks and embracing setbacks have helped her build confidence in her career.

“There have been times when I’ve had to be a trailblazer,” says Karen Jordan, SVP, Chief Supply Chain Officer, PepsiCo Beverages North America. “In some of the leadership roles I’ve been in, I’ve had to navigate through being at these levels and be courageous in that moment.”

Karen has built that confidence after spending more than 20 years rising through manufacturing and plant management ranks, overseeing multi-million dollar budgets, logistics for billion-dollar brands and the safety for thousands of associates. Along the way, she’s built skills for defeating the self-doubt that can be an obstacle for career success. Here’s how she learned how to stop second-guessing herself and deliver results.


Perfectionism isn’t a good trait for anyone, but it’s particularly toxic for women’s careers. She recalls initially feeling paralyzed after taking over management of a plant in Nashville, overthinking many early decisions. “At some point, I realized perfect answers just aren’t going to appear. I just trusted that I had been put in that job for a reason and took what I thought was the next best step,” she says.

In order to lead, she learned to believe in her problem-solving skills. “Being a leader doesn’t mean sitting alone in my office, thinking up all the answers. It means working with the team to find the best solutions.” And the more actions she’s taken, “the more I built that muscle of confidence. I learned to trust myself.”


Of course, some of those decisions don’t work out. “Early on, someone told me that if I’m not failing at some things, I’m not playing a big enough game,” she says. “Failing is learning.” Some of those lessons are small, and she and her team quickly incorporate them into the workflow. Others linger, like a presentation that derailed into what felt like a disaster in her early Pepsi days. She has no regrets. The setback showed her she could be passionate and authentic and trust her colleagues to help her along. “Once you prove yourself, no one can take it away.”


Karen recalls a performance review where her boss asked her what she wanted to do next. She hemmed and hawed. “I asked questions like, ‘Well, what do you think I’d be good at?’” He told her to come back in two weeks with a real answer. “I knew I wanted to be an executive and make a big impact. But I didn’t know how to say that. I figured I’d tell him I wanted his job. He was at least three levels above me, so I expected him to laugh it off.”

He didn’t. Instead, he told Karen precisely what steps she needed to take to get there, right down to performance metrics, next-step job moves and relocating. “That opened the possibility for me,” she says. “Sometimes we as women don't give ourselves permission to dream big and to then share with people what that dream is.” It took 10 years, but she did eventually get that job.


There are times when women in leadership may feel they can’t win. “There’s a stereotype that women might come off as aggressive or non-collaborative. Or people would say, ‘Oh, she's a big thinker, she's not a partner.’” Given that relentless judgment, the best path is to be true to yourself. “You don’t have to give up yourself or your point of view to be agile and flexible,” she says. “That’s being a positive role model.”


Karen says her most galvanizing career moments have come from mentors and colleagues who offered coaching — formal and spontaneous. When she was younger, it was hard to take. “It felt like someone was saying something was wrong with me, so I had to change it.” As her confidence has grown, she sees it differently. “Coaching is an opportunity to be a better me, a more nuanced version of myself,” she says.


Her career path provides a highly visible example of the company’s She Is PepsiCo initiative to show the opportunities for women in frontline roles. Her growth as a leader has inspired her to make authenticity a core leadership value, encouraging allyship, mentoring and building motivating teams. She explains, “I try to give away as much as I can, so people don’t have to learn the hard way. How do we learn together? How do we coach and inspire people? My work is to help you be a better you, not to help you be me. If we all work together, we’ll find great new possibilities.”