I work with many leaders who tell me they want to feel more confident. It’s a common challenge. That’s why in this post, I’m going to take a look at the critical steps needed to grow your confidence.
It’s not surprising that many leaders struggle with confidence. After all, leadership involves stepping forward and putting yourself in the spotlight to some degree.
We see all the amazing accomplishments posted on platforms like LinkedIn and it’s easy to start to think “Why don’t I feel like that or do those amazing things?”
Never fear. We can navigate the churning waters of leadership, and have you feeling confident on the other side.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #90: Beating Leadership Imposter Syndrome.
Introducing The Critical 4 Steps to Grow Your Confidence
Here, I’ll introduce the four steps that I believe are critical to being able to grow your confidence.
But before I do, these aren’t meant to be easy. This isn’t a “Follow this foolproof program and build muscle in 30 days” type of thing.
If it was, you wouldn’t really build confidence. More on that later.
In summary, the four steps are:
- Awareness: Understanding and acknowledging a potential area where you’re lacking in confidence.
- Preparation: Doing the work to help you get closer to bridging the confidence gap.
- Discomfort: Testing yourself by going through some pain and discomfort, and coming out the other side; and
- Reflection: Taking some time out to think about the process you went through and capturing the key learnings.
Sounds simple? It is!
Let’s go through the steps one by one.
Step 1: Awareness
This first step is all about becoming aware of your confidence problem.
This seems obvious, but there are a few important points to note about here.
Firstly, awareness requires acknowledgement and acceptance that there is a problem. For leaders that are ego-driven or insecure, this can be a challenge, because it means (*gasp*) admitting that you have leadership flaws.
Second, it’s important to pay attention to the specific areas in which you are lacking in confidence. It’s not good enough to say “I don’t feel confident about my leadership”. We can’t do much with that.
It’s about identifying specific situations, tasks or environments that bring out our feelings of insecurity and lack of confidence.
It’s unlikely that you will feel insecure in all aspects of leadership. However, it is very likely that there will be specific aspects that make you feel the most vulnerable.
Learn More: Working For An Insecure Manager? Here’s What to Do.
How Do You Cultivate Awareness to Grow Your Confidence?
There are several ways to do this. One way is through the use of psychometric tools. These include assessments like DISC, PRINT, MBTI, Clifton’s Strengths or Hogan.
There are many of these tools, and they all provide useful insights in one way or another. However, they won’t tell you exactly where you are lacking in confidence.
Instead, they’ll provide insight into your strengths, motivations and tendencies which can highlight potential areas where you might struggle.
They can help give you the “aha” moment that confirms your suspicions. You might find yourself saying “So that’s why I feel so uncomfortable in that situation!”
A Personal Example From PRINT
One of my own examples comes from the PRINT assessment that I use. One of my core “unconscious motivators” coming out of this assessment is “Peace and Harmony”.
This means I enjoy going with the flow, and accepting people and things as they are. These are good characteristics in many situations, but they can also be a problem when it comes to leadership.
In leadership, you’ll need to engage in conflict, make decisions and push for change. Going with the flow and accepting situations as they are do not reinforce these aspects of leadership.
That doesn’t mean I can’t lead effectively.
It just means I need to be very conscious of whether I’m avoiding conflict, or settling for things that I shouldn’t accept. And if I find myself suffering from a lack of confidence which leads me to avoid conflict or settle, this can be a sign that I need to do work in this area.
Learn More: Why You Need to Know Your Values In Leadership.
To Build Awareness, Observe Your Environment
You don’t necessarily need to use tools or assessments to guide you. Instead, you can simply observe your environment and take note of any factors that you struggle with.
In particular, notice the times when you feel insecure, stressed, overly worried or anxious, or demonstrate avoidant tendencies.
You may notice these at various times, including:
- When dealing with certain people
- Being part of certain work situations or events, such as meetings or other forums
- When working on specific tasks or projects; or
- When you’re working with certain environments.
When you notice these low-confidence emotions, ask yourself the question:
“What specifically is it about this situation that makes me feel like I’m lacking confidence?”
This question is a useful one, and will help you to pinpoint potential solutions in the next step.
Learn More: 5 Questions Confident Leaders Ask.
Step 2: Grow Your Confidence With Preparation
Some people advocate the sink or swim approach of being “thrown in the deep end” of a challenging task or situation.
This can be a great way to build confidence, but it comes with a risk. The risk is that if you don’t manage to swim, you might find yourself feeling even worse afterwards!
Damaging your confidence in this way can take years to overcome. Instead of this high-risk, high-reward approach, I generally suggest something a little more moderate.
And that’s why the second step is to prepare yourself for facing your confidence challenge.
Suitable preparation will of course depend on the area in which you’re trying to grow your confidence.
A Personal Example of My Own Preparation
When I was studying at university, I discovered I was petrified of public speaking. When I was forced to do it, I was terrible at it. My voice shook, I read from a page of notes and hardly looked up.
At that point, I took the avoidant approach. That is, I’d try to avoid public speaking at any cost. Once I even transferred out of a class because I found out one of the assignments involved giving a presentation!
When I started working, I still hadn’t really acknowledged this as a problem (see step 1).
The problem only became obvious to me when I started working in a large consulting company. As a consultant, you would often need to deliver presentations or briefings. And being able to deliver these well was really helpful, because it improved your reputation both internally and with clients.
When I realised this was going to hold me back, I joined a Toastmasters club, where I could improve my public speaking. This helped me learn how to do it better, and most importantly gave me a lot of practice time in a supportive environment.
How Should You Prepare?
Obviously your preparation will depend on the area in which you’d like to grow your confidence.
I’d suggest looking at the following options:
- Attending relevant training courses, online or in-person
- Being coached or mentored by a supportive person
- Researching tools and techniques that could help you
- Role playing situations (such as a job interview or dealing with a critical person) with a supportive partner
- Joining a relevant club or group; or
- Practicing skills or techniques that will help you feel more confident.
The choice is up to you, and you might opt to combine several of these methods.
Keep in mind what you are preparing for too, which is the focus for the next step.
Learn More: Leadership Confidence Problem? Let’s Diagnose It.
Step 3: Discomfort
You learn the most when you step out of your comfort zone. The idea is that the preparation from the previous step will help you to handle the pressure.
Unfortunately, when things are easy, you don’t tend to learn as much. You might feel confident when you’ve been living on easy street for a long time, but when you’re tested is when you’ll really find out how good you are.
Going back to my previous example with public speaking, my discomfort moment was when I was at work, delivering presentations to clients. I felt confident *enough* to do this, because of the preparation I’d put in.
If you lack confidence leading meetings, your discomfort zone might be when you need to lead an important one at work, with lots of senior people in the room.
Or if you feel vulnerable having difficult conversations, your discomfort might be when you finally choose to have that hard conversation with the underperforming team member.
Pushing through the discomfort is a critical step. On the other side, you’ll feel better that you tried.
Most importantly, you’ll be able to say “I did it!”, even if it didn’t go perfectly.
Without discomfort, you’ll never feel that satisfaction, and you’ll never be tested.
What’s your discomfort situation that will help you grow your confidence?
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #56: Why Thoughtful Leaders Need the Most Confidence.
Step 4: Grow Your Confidence Through Reflection
After you’ve pushed through the discomfort and emerged from the other side, it’s important to reflect on what you’ve been through.
Some useful questions to ask yourself include:
How did I feel before? And how was it different to how I feel about the situation now?
Was my preparation useful? Or was there something I could have added to improve my ability to handle the discomfort?
What are you most proud of? What would you like to do better?
What else could you do to grow your confidence even further?
Reflection is a useful practice to help you learn from your experiences, both good and bad.
You might find that there are a whole lot of new challenges you’re focusing on now, after you’ve grown in confidence. It’s important to be able to look back and see how far you’ve come, rather than to only look forward to the next challenge.
Some Final Points to Remember While You Grow Your Confidence
I find it useful to focus on these steps to grow your confidence, rather than just leaving it to chance.
It’s worth remembering that even though you might feel like you lack leadership confidence in general, it’s usually specific triggers that will have you feeling the most vulnerable.
Remember also that your preparation does not need to be perfect. It just needs to be good enough to take that next step and put yourself through some discomfort.
Without discomfort, you’ll never really be tested. Being tested is how you’ll know how far you’ve come.
Reflection is important to embed the learning, so you can do things better next time, or simply feel good about what you have achieved.
Good luck on your journey. There’ll be some discomfort along the way, but that’s all part of the plan.
Feeling low on confidence? Try my Leadership Confidence Online Course by clicking right here.
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