Having people skills always has been key to getting ahead in this world. Just take a look at Dale Carnegie’s book How to Make Friends and Influence People, which continues to be a top seller 80 years after it was first, published. We know that a leader must do good work and have the technical know-how to be able to get a job done, but the real meat and potatoes of a managerial position is dealing with people. People who are truly successful create trusting and respectful relationships with people at all junctures of their lives. It is said that 90% of the people who are highly successful are also highly emotionally intelligent. Confidence in oneself, not to be in any way confused with arrogance, is an important facet of emotional intelligence.
My students and clients come talk to me about how they want to be leaders and managers or reach goals in their lives, but they are full of self-doubt and do not feel as confident as the leaders they see out there in the world. So what is the real importance of being confident anyway? It means being courageous in making decisions for sure. But a less recognized benefit to working with a confident leader is that a confident leader has a gift of making others feel confident and empowered, as well. They make others comfortable in their presence. They can afford to shine light on other’s strengths because they are not concerned about taking away from their own limelight.
So if you are biting your lip, hunching your shoulders forward with a case of the smalls because you do not always feel especially courageous, don’t throw in the towel! Confidence is not necessarily something innate. There are, of course, people who seem to come by it more naturally, but even those who don’t can feel hopeful. It is something that can be gained.
The first relationship is the relationship with oneself.
In order to lead others effectively the first thing you must do is have a strong, respectful and honest relationship with yourself; understand yourself at many levels. This is where I start with clients in a coaching process. Sometimes it is uncomfortable or scary to look at yourself under a microscope, so to speak, for fear of what you might discover. But it gets easier because much of what you see will be a positive surprise. In so much of life we put blinders on and focus on what we don’t do well. It is important to want to improve, but I have clients who are just chomping at the bit to tell me all they do poorly. The struggle for me is to keep them focused for even 5 minutes on things they do well! This is not always the case. It turns out that successful leaders do tend to think quite highly of themselves. The fact that they have a somewhat inflated self-image helps them to not be fearful in making decisions and taking calculated risks. When it comes to gaining that sort of confidence and basing it on reality it is imperative to look at what we do well, what we already bring to a situation, what our values are and why we are unique. Then, instead of focusing on the negative and what we need to improve, we can take what we have learned we do well and exploit it! Be you consciously and courageously. This is the first step to gaining confidence.
Our relationship with others can help us to learn about ourselves.
Getting feedback from others with whom we are in relationship is another step toward understanding who we are. This allows us to make a plan of action of how we will get from where we are to where we want to be. It can be terrifying to think about asking people in our lives for feedback. I have an agreement with my clients: It is my job to get them out of their comfort zone so that they may stretch and learn. Nothing will change if they do not change what they do. So, I ask my clients to send an email to at least 10 people in their personal and professional lives asking them to reflect on what they do well, what their strengths are and what they might like to see more of or see my client work on. I ask them to ask about the impact they make on others. This is often called a 360 as it gives a broad evaluation of a persons strenghts and areas needing work. Again, if you really want to make a transformation you need to know where you stand now to be able to draw a map of where you want to go and how you will get there.
So often we are very aware of our own faults and spend time trying to hide them (unsuccessfully), but it is actually our strengths we are more afraid to look at. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us,” as Marianne Williamson said. The truth is that my clients usually are quite pleasantly surprised by the feedback they receive and are more than eager to work on the other aspects that can help them to get where they want to go.
Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Take time to deliberate; but when the time for action arrives, stop thinking and go in.”
The next step is to take a step. Any step. Often we don’t know what to do next. The “not knowing,” or ambiguity, is highly uncomfortable and can eat away at anyone’s confidence, especially if you are a person who compares yourself to others and always comes to the conclusion that everyone else has it all figured out. The more years I live and the more people I talk to the more I know that is a huge farce- people don’t have it all figured out whatsoever! It is quite the opposite, in fact. So much of life is a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kind of gig! (Just try parenting.) When I moved to Spain I had to reinvent myself. I could no longer be a Spanish teacher (go figure!). I knew that I had already been in need of a change prior to the move so this was an opportunity, but I didn’t have the insight to understand what I brought to the world. However, one day, I took a step. It was one I had resisted because I didn’t want to teach English. But this time I said “yes” to giving English conversation classes to a doctor who had been laid-off from her job at a pharmaceutical company and was looking for a new job. She wanted to brush up on her (amazing) English for interviews. It turns out I ended up dusting off many of my skills that I had not thought about in some time to work with her on presenting herself with confidence, to communicate her ideas, and to write her resume in a way that really depicted the strong candidate that she was. By taking a step, any step, I had found what I wanted to do- coach- and I gained confidence in myself by understanding what I already brought to the table. In addition to knowing and appreciating ourselves, it is by identifying our limiting thoughts and then doing and doing and doing some more that we gain the experience that gives us confidence. So in times of doubt-provoked insecurity, take a step.
“Have the courage to be imperfect”, said Brene Brown.
Being secure in yourself means not only knowing what you are good at, but also knowing that you cannot do it all nor can you do everything perfectly. Being secure is accepting that if you don’t have an answer you can admit that, confident in the knowledge that you can find it or are able to find people who can find it. Believing that your weaknesses are opportunities to learn makes it much less daunting. I am honest in my classes when I don’t have an answer, and I open the space for my students to share their knowledge and for all of us to learn. Think of a time of when a competent leader or manager shared about a time when they had made a mistake or they asked for your help to solve a problem. How did you feel? Did you judge them for the mistake or the lack of knowledge or were you more impressed with the courage it took to share it or to ask for help? A manager shows confidence by being able to own their weaknesses and shows empathy in their leadership by sharing them in the interest of creating trust, cohesion and an environment for innovation in a team.
It is true that a person with genuine confidence based on self-knowledge is easier in the world. They tend to try new things, put themselves out there, and stick with projects because they may not feel that the outcome alters their self-worth. (Like Angela Lee Duckworth’s studies show about “grit”.) A confident person tends to have a gift for putting others at ease, too. I have confident friends and instead of searching for approval they are quick to compliment others and encourage them. In a leader this means that they will happily develop their people and coach them toward success, thus creating loyalty and motivation.
As you do your introspective work, maybe with a coach, other professional or on your own, you become cognizant of the qualities that make you you, the things that make you unique and great. As you become aware of your strengths and develop them through action and experience your confidence will start to blossom. Knowing we have weaknesses and accepting them is part of this process, not contrary to it. Again, confidence is not related to arrogance but rather goes hand-in-hand with humility and a willingness to learn. It is something to be savored in ourselves and in others and aids in making us leaders who give to others and create a positive, productive environment for people around us.