Why confidence is critical to leadership success

Everyone, from those starting out in their first ‘real’ jobs to experienced leaders in the senior ranks of organisations, have moments – days, months, years even – when they question their ability to face challenges, and when their confidence feels threatened. You might question your own ability to have an impact and to negotiate and stand up for yourself, whether in your career, about your salary or with your clients and stakeholders. 

Maybe you’ve been trying to break through to senior leadership levels and don’t know how to do this. Your colleagues with more confidence and a stronger presence are now being promoted above you. You may be asking yourself what you need to do differently to be considered ready for promotion. Whose support do I need? How do I develop the level of confidence and influence I will need at this level? And will I really be able to do it? 

 No-one is immune to bouts of insecurity at work – but this doesn’t have to hold you back. Without confidence, you can’t exercise leadership with real impact, and have teams and stakeholders who believe in you and want to follow you. If you set your bar too low, you fail to maximise your potential, and the potential of your team, your business and your organisation. 

 Remember – very few people succeed in business without a degree of confidence. There are many leaders out there who are limited by their lack of confidence. They are really good at the ‘doing’ elements of their job but this basic competence is no longer enough – not when they need to exercise leadership in a way that has real impact and can influence real results. 

Don’t set it and forget it 

Confidence isn’t just something you work towards, attain and then forget about – it’s something you have to work on at all times, no matter what level, job or industry you’re working in.  

Of course, confidence can wax and wane throughout our lives. It’s boosted when we accomplish something great or when we get good feedback from those we trust, but it can take a hit when we fall short of the mark, or we’re criticised, rejected or simply feel a lack of external recognition. We’re only human after all. Moving away from being reliant on external affirmation to prop up our self-worth is, therefore, vital. We must take ownership for the actions needed to sustain our confidence.  

Often people think of confidence as something that the lucky few are born with and the rest are left wishing for. This is not true. Confidence is not a personality trait or a fixed attribute; it’s the outcome of the thoughts we think and the actions we take. Confidence is learnable. 

Confidence isn’t based on our actual ability to succeed at a task but on our belief in our ability to succeed. It is the expectation of a positive outcome – regardless of whether this relates to our belief in our ability to speak in front of a large audience, to learn new technology, to lead a team, to handle confrontation, to change jobs and careers, or to start a business. 

With consistent effort and the courage to take a risk, we can gradually expand our confidence and, with it, our capacity to build more of it.  

Developing confidence has many aspects, and you may find you’re stronger in some aspects of your confidence than in others. I’ve had people say to me the process is like peeling back an onion – and to really develop your confidence from the inside out, you really need to peel that onion.  

There are four key areas you need to build confidence in for sustainable success: 

  1. Show up as the real you and the best version of you as a leader  
  2. Stand up for yourself, your team, your values and your point of view  
  3. Speak up and have a voice and be able to influence  
  4. Step up your performance, your impact and, ultimately, how you exercise leadership.  

Simply feeling confident isn’t enough. You have to do the work. But with an expectation of success, you can try new things – form new partnerships, contribute to shared success, and revel in small wins that move you toward bigger goals. 

 Ultimately, real confidence in these four key areas is the key ingredient that will help you to maximise your leadership potential. 

Michelle Sales

Michelle Sales is a highly sought-after speaker, trainer, facilitator and coach who helps senior leaders and their teams learn to show up as the best version of themselves, to build their confidence and influence with others, and to maximise their leadership and performance. She is the author of the book ‘The Power of Real Confidence’ published by Major Street in 2018.
www.michellesales.com.au

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