Building Confidence in Leadership

What Is A Confident Leader?

First and foremost, a confident leader values the outcome they are pursuing. It energizes them. As the saying goes, it is literally “what keeps them up at night!” That pursuit can take the form of solving a problem, responding to an unforeseen challenge or diving into an opportunity. They care about the outcome, and people around them have no trouble picking up that vibe!

A confident leader also envisions success, and that vision is contagious. Even if they have no detailed idea for the particulars of the path they will forge, they are comfortable with their capability (and the capability of those they lead) to make good decisions as relevant information presents itself along the way.

In that regard, this article will shine a light on the role confidence plays in and with effective leadership. Spoiler alert—it’s crucial!

Why Is Self-Confidence Important For Leaders?

Think about this question as we dive in here: Is it possible to have confidence in a leader that clearly doesn’t have confidence in him or herself?

It may well be possible, but it most assuredly is not probable. Net-net, confidence is one of the foundational attributes most of us look for in a leader. If the leader isn’t confident, how can they reasonably expect anyone else to be?

On the flip side of that coin, when confidence goes overboard, it can quickly transport the leader’s ego to a place that is equally problematic.

In that context, developing and demonstrating confidence as a leader is critical, but maintaining the humility necessary to ensure you avoid the inevitable diminishing returns associated with arrogance is of equal importance.

How to Build Your Confidence as a Leader

Consider the following tips for building confidence as a leader. Also consider that the more you thoughtfully and intentionally act like a leader, the more you actually become one!

Shift Your Mindset

Genuine leadership is an “inside out” function. Effectively implemented, it is a sincere and authentic expression of your mindset, predispositions and assumptions about the outcomes you aspire to accomplish and the people you are attempting to influence. Since no one can actually see your mindset, predispositions or assumptions, they draw inferences about them based on the way you behave as a leader.

For instance, your response to well-intended mistakes or setbacks is a clear line of sight into your true assumptions about your team as well as your level of confidence as a leader. Effective leaders view mistakes as legitimate learning opportunities. In so doing, they communicate belief in the pursuit of the objective and commitment to the people pursuing it.

Define The Type of Leader You Want to Be

Think about the best leader you ever reported to, were coached by, etc. What did they do that forever left their mark on you? Did they encourage you to reach your full potential? Probably. Did they empower you to make decisions when it was clear you knew what you were doing? Probably. Did they give you guidance when you were lost and perhaps feeling a bit insecure? Probably.

Good leaders meet us where we are and give us what we need! When you commit to be that kind of leader for those in your spectrum of influence it can (and does) have a discernible impact on your confidence. At a minimum, you know where you are going, and you have at least some ideas on how to get there!

Accept Constructive Feedback

Confident leaders invite and embrace both feedback and feedforward! As a matter of fact, it is probably one of the most visible and compelling gestures of “confidence on display” that a leader can make. When a leader is challenged and responds by listening and considering the particulars of that challenge, it models poise, assuredness, and objectivity.

Beyond that, leaders who listen to, and actively reflect upon feedback and “feedforward,” build trust with the providers. Over time, this serves to remove or address any perceived barriers that may exist and stimulates a sense of both equity and inclusion.

Learn and Build Leadership Skills

At The Center for Leadership Studies, we have been helping leaders at all levels in organizations around the world build leadership skills for over 50 years. We have seen firsthand how the ability to perform or execute a particular task impacts willingness.

Generally speaking, the more experience and demonstrated skill you have to perform a task, the less apprehensive or insecure you will be when it comes time to do so. Conversely, the less experience and skill you possess, the higher the probability you will be unsure or apprehensive. Ability and willingness are indeed an “interactive influence system.” One directly impacts the other.

This is especially the case if the task under evaluation is “leadership.” Simply stated, the relationship between ability and willingness is pronounced when it comes to leadership. The more experience you have garnered as a leader and the more skill you have had the opportunity to develop and demonstrate under pressure, the more confident you will be in situations where you are tasked with the responsibility to “take charge.”

This is why “good leaders” who aspire to be “great” dive into challenging situations with high stakes. They know that, at a minimum, they will learn from the experience and grow as a result.

Practice Compassion

Confidence as a leader is frequently manifested through compassion. When someone on your team makes a mistake or hits a roadblock, the ability of the leader to demonstrate empathy and help get things back on track is critical.

Seldom does progress on any project adhere directly to “the plan.” Some roadblocks were understated. Others came out of nowhere. Leaders that exhibit Emotional Intelligence in the face of unforeseen circumstances put confidence on display and enhance trust as a result.

Identify and Address Self-Doubt

Each and every one of us suffers from the “imposter complex” in some aspect of our lives. We are tasked with the responsibility of accomplishing something we don’t have direct experience with or understanding of while it appears everyone around us thinks “we’ve got this!” What to do?

The first thing strong leaders do in those circumstances is to set the record straight! They demonstrate confidence by telling the truth (to themselves and others) about their track record and the gap that exists between their experience and the task(s) at hand. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly this tactic typically accomplishes two things:

  1. It energizes the team! When the person in charge admits they don’t know what to do, “followers” all of a sudden become “leaders” as the collective experience of the team comes to the forefront.
  2. Authenticity is modeled! If the formal leader of the team can admit shortcomings and seek help, so can everybody else!

Avoid Negativity and Focus on Your Strengths

Just in case you live in a cave on the side of a remote mountain that gets spotty internet access, the world is obsessed with negativity! There are negative people out there who seem to do nothing but spread negativity to anyone who will give them the opportunity to do so. Do the people you work with periodically find themselves impacted by this unconstructive swirl? Of course, they do!

So, what does a confident leader do to combat these environmental forces? Get (and keep) the people on your team focused on the things you collectively control and the strengths your team possesses—PERIOD!  This sounds so much easier than it really is. But effective leaders demonstrate confidence by acknowledging all that is “wrong with the world” without letting it zap one ounce of energy from the exciting opportunities the team is in the middle of positively impacting!

Build Others Up

Confidence is contagious! The more you, as a leader, point out the positive contributions of those on your team the more:

  • Those individuals feel good about themselves and their contributions
  • Likely those individuals will be to point out the contributions of others
  • You (as the leader) will feel good about your team
  • Your team will feel good about you as a leader

It has been said that company culture is really just a function of the kinds of conversations employees have on a recurring basis. Leaders set that tone and model what those conversations look like. Confident leaders make it a point to enhance the confidence of others every chance they get!

Be Flexible

The world we live in continues to become increasingly dynamic. Managing change 5 or 10 years ago simply doesn’t compare to leading change today. And the distinctions between managing and leading have never been more pronounced! When you manage, you have at least a few ideas of what good looks like. There is a blueprint (of sorts) for you to follow or reference.

With leadership, there is no blueprint! Leadership by its very nature is vague. You get imperfect information and still have to make quality decisions. This demands flexibility! Leaders demonstrate confidence when they calibrate their course based on emergent facts and data.

Maintain a Professional Physical Appearance

What does a confident leader look like? How are they dressed? What does their posture communicate? When they speak, do they look at the floor or the surroundings, or do they maintain eye contact with those they are speaking to and engaged with?

Effective leaders are aware of the image they project! They also recognize that everything mentioned, thus far (and a whole lot more), contributes to the alignment of that image with the potential to effectively influence others.

Take Care of Your Mental Health

Leaders understand (and honor) their limits. They do so by demonstrating Emotional Intelligence when it comes time to take a step back, pump the brakes and pay attention to their mental health.

Not unlike several other points made above, this is a personification of confidence that results in two predictable outcomes:

  1. It puts transparency and honesty on display.
  2. It signals that mental health is something to be monitored, taken seriously and openly discussed.

Keep Your Word

Effective leaders obsess over keeping their promises and following through on their commitments. Another piece of advice that undoubtedly comes across as obvious common sense but is by no means universal common practice.

Understanding leadership is comparatively easy. We all know what it is and can recognize it when we see it. But developing and executing the discipline that establishes you as a leader is extremely difficult (if it wasn’t, there would be so many more examples of good to great leadership we could point to).

At the absolute epicenter of confident leadership, you will find people that do what they say they are going to do when they say they are going to do it and to the best of their ability! That kind of consistent effort builds leaders and imparts confidence.

Build Your Leadership Skills and Increase Confidence With The Center for Leadership Studies

The Center for Leadership Studies is the global home of the Situational Leadership® Model. This model has been helping leaders around the world and across industries effectively influence others for over 50 years. It has always been “a follower-driven model.” And we wholeheartedly believe that is the primary reason Situational Leadership® practices are more relevant today than ever before!

In keeping with this article, we have designed our flagship offerings (Situational Leadership® Essentials and Situational Performance Ownership™) to provide leaders at all levels of an organization with the confidence to effectively respond to the challenges and opportunities they encounter on an ever-recurring basis.

Leadership has never been something you do to other people—it is something you do with them! And the Situational Leadership® approach continues to help leaders at all levels do just that!