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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Aug 30, 2019


Confidence is a key part of leadership effectiveness. It’s much easier to follow a confident leader than one who appears to doubt themselves. But what is confidence, and how can we develop it?


Welcome to episode 51 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we’re exploring confidence in action.

Confidence is a key part of leadership effectiveness. It’s much easier to follow a confident leader than one who appears to doubt themselves. But what is confidence, and how can we develop it?

First a thought - yes, it is possible to be overly confident and to overestimate our abilities. Check out episode 49 on accurate self-assessment for ways to avoid that. 

Self-confidence is underpinned by two concepts:

Self-esteem - this is the belief that you have an inherent value. Furthermore, it’s a belief that this value isn’t based on what you do or offer others, rather it’s something that all human beings share. You might also think of self-esteem as self-worth or self-respect. How can you have self-confidence unless you believe you are of value?

Self-efficacy - this is the belief that you have capacity to influence events in your own life. It’s a sense of control - that you’re not just a victim of your circumstances, but have the ability to shape the world around you. That no matter what cards are dealt to you, you still have choice and influence. Self-efficacy is necessary for self-confidence. How can you have self-confidence if you don’t think you can impact your circumstances?

You may have noticed that both self-esteem and self-efficacy are grounded in beliefs. They are both about how we think about ourselves and the world. They’re not primarily about feelings, although they will absolutely impact the way we feel. And they’re not primarily about action, although they will absolutely impact the way we act.

Self-confidence is a little different. It is grounded in thoughts, feelings and behaviour. Self-confidence is the belief that you can face day to day challenges. It’s a level of trust in your abilities, capacities and judgements. You can think confidently. You can feel confident. And you can act confidently. Importantly, you can take confident action even when you don’t feel confident. And taking confident action can help you to feel more confident.

So what holds us back from thinking, feeling and acting confidently:

Spotlight effect - this is the misguided belief that everyone is watching and judging what we’re doing all the time. It’s easy to feel like we’re always the centre of attention in our world, but that’s probably not the case. More likely is that people are thinking about themselves more than they’re thinking about you. So the fear and anxiety of feeling like we’re in the spotlight can hold us back - it’s a harmful belief that we can reduce once we’re aware of it.

Catastrophic thinking - this can lead us to overestimate the potential downside and underestimate the potential benefits of taking action. We can all benefit from taking a more optimistic view.

Thinking we need to feel confident before taking action - confidence is, in large part, about taking action even when we don’t feel confident. Try measuring your confidence on the actions you take rather than the feelings you experience.

Perfectionism - the need to get things perfect the first time can hold us back because, let’s face it, it’s never going to be perfect the first time, or the second time, or any other time. Instead, set goals around trying new things and improvement rather than perfection.

Confidence is often about what I describe as flight time. Just like when you’re learning to fly a plane, the number of hours of experience matter when it comes to boosting your confidence. Keep putting yourself in situations that expand your capabilities, that stretch you into new territories, and that encourage you to take action. Because, over time, you’ll find out for yourself that your actions can shape your thoughts and beliefs, and ultimately change the way you feel. The pathway to feeling confident is through taking confident action.

If you want to explore more of the themes in this episode further, I suggest checking out two other episodes where we explore growth mindset. That’s episode 9, “Why following your passion isn’t enough”, and episode 42, “The power of ‘I don’t know’”.