Confidence is the key to leadership

Everyone has limiting beliefs – deeply-held beliefs that limit our effectiveness in life. Mine tends to be that I don’t know enough, which leads to a lack of confidence.

This is interesting, because I have a solid list of skills and accomplishments, and I’m well-respected by friends and family. Yet I still have trouble being confident sometimes.

I’m finding that lack of confidence has held me back a lot in life. I imagine it might be doing the same for you. It’s important that we recognize what might be holding us back, and work to remove the blockage.

“Perhaps it’s time for you to take a temporary break from pursuing goals to find the knots in the garden hose that, once removed, will make everything else better and easier. It’s incredible what can happen when you stop driving with the emergency brake on.”
Tim Ferriss, Tools of Titans

Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter defines confidence as “the expectation of a positive outcome.”

That’s a nice, simple definition – but how do we apply it?

Fortunately, confidence is a skill that can be honed.

For me, my expectation of a positive outcome is because of my faith in God. He’s proven Himself faithful, time and again. Part of my confidence is in His faithfulness, and part of it is in what He thinks of me – that I am loved and significant.

Besides that, there are other things that can help us refine this skill of confidence.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

Insecurity makes it harder for others to believe in you.

“Credibility is a leader’s currency. With it, he or she is solvent; without it, he or she is bankrupt.”
John Maxwell

Insecurity can not only affect our performance and self-limitations, it also affects whether people trust you or not – your credibility.

Confidence can make or break whether you get that job, your boss agrees with your idea, or your family trusts your guidance. People also usually like us more, are friendlier, and trust what you have to say.

You can have stellar skills, character, and accomplishments, but if you don’t believe in yourself, people are less likely to trust you. (R, R)

Confidence leads to credibility, credibility builds trust, and trust makes your leadership more effective.

Confidence leads to credibility, credibility builds trust, and trust makes your leadership more effective.

I don’t know how to explain this on a psychological or neuroscientific level. I just know that it’s true. People trust people that trust themselves.

Stop focusing on what you don’t know.

I love learning new things. I’m always reading or watching videos in order to improve myself or my skills.

The problem is that when I’m faced with a new environment, I focus on all the things I don’t know and need to learn in order to succeed.

This is good to recognize, to a point. But when you’re focusing on your shortcomings a majority of the time, it kills your confidence.

Henry Kissinger worked with a long list of U.S. presidents and he observed, “Presidents don’t do great things by dwelling on their limitations, but by focusing on their possibilities.” (Source: On Becoming a Leader, by Warren Bennis)

All this takes is focusing on how far you’ve come – what you’ve learned, what you’ve accomplished, the influence that you already have. If focusing on your shortcomings makes you insecure, focusing on your strengths builds confidence.

I find reading over my resumé, portfolio, website, and blog posts are a great way to remember that I may actually know what I’m doing. It also helps to remember all the positive things that people have said about you and your work.

Choosing confidence when you’re insecure isn’t a lie – it’s courage.

Everyone has heard the advice, “fake it til you make it”. I have personally always had a problem with this statement, because “faking it” feels like lying – lying to yourself, and to others.

So while I wouldn’t recommend faking it until you make it, I would recommend choosing to be confident, even if you feel insecure.

Why? Because that’s the definition of courage. You can feel insecure, fearful, and uncertain, but choose to believe in yourself anyway. I’d say that’s pretty courageous.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
Nelson Mandela

Be realistic.

Sometimes I can go into a job interview or meeting, and expect myself to have a mind-blowing idea or insight right off the bat. I want to impress people as quickly as possible, or else I can feel inadequate. It doesn’t always work like that.

So look at what you expect of yourself, and ask “is this realistic?”. It’s ok not to know the answers right away. But, it is important to ask the right questions in order to resolve the unknowns.

Be kinder to yourself – sometimes we are our own harshest critic.

Humility matters, but so does confidence.

If we’re not confident in any of our abilities, that’s not being humble – it’s just poor self-esteem.

It’s great to admit to people what you don’t know and still need to learn, but it’s also ok what you do know, have accomplished, and are able to do.

If you’re able to solve someone’s problem, it’s ok to say so.

Practice mindfulness.

We can be so externally focused that we become overwhelmed with thoughts and anxiety. Anxiety is a signal that we’re not confident of if or when we can complete a task.

So practice mindfulness and focus on your physical presence. Try walking slower, breathing deeper, stand straighter and put your shoulders back. Get comfortable in your own skin.

Also, slow yourself down while you work. We can get in such a hurry while we’re working that we burn ourselves out. Work a little slower and don’t get worked up.

I believe that slowing down our work improves its quality. If we get in a hurry to get something done, we become anxious, and then are prone to say “that’s good enough” to resolve that anxiety. Slowing down eliminates the anxiety, making us more willing to refine a project until it’s exceptional.

Confidence is distinct from narcissism.

Confidence also has a dark side. If we inflate our self-esteem too much, it can have lots of negative effects. Many times we do this to compensate for deep insecurity.

If our self-worth is overinflated, the smallest jab or even a joke can make us react badly. Don’t be that person!

What do you think? Leave a comment and let me know!

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