Many of my coaching clients come to me saying that they suffer from low leadership confidence. Part of their goals are to feel more self-assured so they can both lead their people effectively, and feel good about it at the same time.
After all, it’s no fun second-guessing yourself when you’re leading people. Even if other people think you’re a confident leader, it’s uncomfortable when you don’t feel it yourself.
I’ve got some good news for you. Low leadership confidence is not your problem.
Low Leadership Confidence is a Symptom, not the Problem
If you’re running low on leadership confidence, it can feel like the main issue.
When you find yourself saying things like “I wish I had more confidence”, it’s natural to believe that this is your real problem.
It’s not your problem. It’s just a sign telling you that something is out of balance in your environment, causing you to feel vulnerable and unstable.
That doesn’t mean we just leave it be. We want to get rid of these nagging doubts and constant worry. We want to tackle the problem and have you feeling more confident.
But we can’t help you feel more confident by talking about confidence. We need to talk about all the other things that are contributing to the problem.
Focus On the Inputs and You’ll Improve the Outcome
The challenge is that we often focus on the outcome that we feel or see. In this case, the outcome from your work environment and leadership situation is low confidence.
However, focusing on the outcome can be frustrating, because we have very little control over it.
Have you ever lost weight by focusing on your weight?
If you’ve lost weight, you’ve focused on the food that has gone into your body, and the exercise that has helped you to burn it off. You may have also focused on the sleep that helps your body recover, too.
After a while, you’ve looked at the scale and thought, “Hey! I’ve lost weight”.
Confidence is an outcome. We need to focus on the inputs which come from our own effort, and our environment. The scale is a useful way of measuring our achievement, but we can’t directly control what it says.
And here’s even more good news. The inputs are within your control. The outputs will take care of themselves.
Building Leadership Confidence Through Coaching
I’ve noticed that my coaching clients often come to me talking about wanting to feel more confident. But after one or two coaching sessions, they stop even mentioning confidence.
No, it’s not because after one session we’ve solved all their problems.
It’s because they realise that it is themselves and their environment that are causing the outcome of feeling a lack of confidence.
Coaching is all about focusing on the future and taking actions to overcome our challenges or achieve our goals. We focus on taking action to improve the inputs, instead of dwelling on the feelings of confidence that are the outcome.
How Do We Build Leadership Confidence?
What are the inputs that we should be focusing on to build our leadership confidence? Well, there are several we need to look at, in different categories.
The first category is ourselves. This includes many things, including our skills, experience, mindset, personality and motivations.
Next is our environment. If you put a fish on land, it will struggle.
It’s the same with us.
Our environment needs to support us to feel the outcome of leadership confidence.
There is no single way to build leadership confidence for everyone, because it’s a complex mixture of inputs that can cause us to feel insecure.
I won’t write an exhaustive list of things you should work on, because it would take forever and many of them might not apply to you.
Instead, for the remainder of this article, I want to provide you with a set of questions you can use to diagnose the source of your leadership confidence issues.
Once you understand the source, you can take action to improve the inputs, and hopefully get a better outcome.
Simple Questions to Find the Source of Your Leadership Confidence Problem
Answer the simple questions below to help find the source of your leadership confidence challenge. Only then will you be able to take action to improve it.
Q1: In what specific situations do you feel the least confident, most insecure, self-doubting or worried?
Sometimes leaders feel an overall lack of confidence, but often it is linked to specific circumstances. Take a look at your normal day, week or month.
Start to look at which tasks, events or situations have you feeling the most out of your depth or uncomfortable.
Q2: What specifically is it about these situations that cause the insecure feelings?
From question 1, you might feel like the situation is quite clear. But you’re not sure what to do to move forward.
Often the answer can come from understanding what about the situation really matters to you.
Is it that you might look stupid in front of others? Or that people will think you don’t know what you’re talking about?
From this specific what can often come the why. Knowing why a situation triggers your lack of confidence can be instructive.
It will help you to become more motivated about solving your confidence challenge, when you know why this is so important for you.
Q3: In what situations do you feel the most confident in your leadership abilities?
As humans, we tend to gravitate towards the negatives. But there are probably parts of your leadership situation where you show up with confidence.
What are they? See how specific you can get, and then go to Question 4.
Q4: What specifically is it about these situations that makes you feel confident?
You can see this is the mirror of a previous question, and it is very important.
Sometimes when we know what makes us feel confident in a situation, we can use this to try to translate to other areas of our leadership.
Here’s an example.
I once had a coaching client who felt anxious about having performance review conversations with her team.
I asked her for examples of any times where she had felt confident running meetings. One that came up was when she was performing job interviews for prospective new hires.
So we looked at what it was about these conversations that made her feel more confident. The main factor was that she drove the agenda. She was in control.
She came up with the agenda, she followed it and let the candidate know what to expect beforehand. Then, we looked at how we might translate this to her performance conversations.
The solution was relatively simple. It was to plan and create the agenda, let the team member know what it was before the meeting, and ask them for feedback about anything else they’d like to bring to the conversation themselves.
Asking for input from the team member before the meeting was very important. It meant that they knew what was coming, and that if they wanted any specific outcome from the meeting, they’d need to bring it to the table.
This made my client feel even more in control. Because she could now run the agenda knowing that it was agreed and understood. No surprises.
The result? Feeling more confident in her performance conversations.
Q5. Do you have a place to go for support? Do you use it?
A supportive environment is critical when it comes to feeling confident in leadership. Many leaders feel like they are “going it alone”.
There are several places you can find support. It could be in a trusted colleague, your manager, a friend, a mentor or a coach.
If you have support from more than one of these sources, you’re in good shape, when you use them.
Sometimes, leaders feel bad asking for help or advice. All the mentors and trusted colleagues in the world can’t help you if you don’t use them.
Q6. Are you surrounded by positive or negative voices?
I like to keep in mind this quote from Jim Rohn:
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”
I won’t vouch for how the mathematics of this equation works, but I strongly agree with the sentiment of the quote.
If you often associate with people who are unsupportive, negative, dismissive or make you feel small, you’ll begin to believe what they say. Associating with supportive, encouraging, positive people has the opposite effect.
This goes for your work life and your personal life.
Is it time you starting spending less time with certain people who make you feel bad, and more time with those that help you believe in yourself?
Nobody Feels More Confident by Staying Still
Once you’ve pinpointed the source of your leadership confidence challenges, it’s time to take action.
What specific things can you do to make progress on your areas of insecurity?
It might be learning more, finding support, gaining more experience or trying new things. Of course, it all depends on your specific situation.
Remember that nobody feels more confident by reading an article, or listening to a podcast or even getting advice from a trusted advisor.
An important ingredient to all of this is to take action and keep practising. People don’t feel better about public speaking by speaking once, they do it many times until they feel more confident.
You don’t feel confident with difficult conversations unless you have some. You can do research to learn how to be better at it, but putting it into action will help you believe you can do it.
Over time, you’ll build the leadership confidence that you need.
Because confidence is an outcome, not a requirement for taking action. Before you know it, you’ll stop thinking about confidence, and that’s when you know you have some!
How have you built your leadership confidence? Let me and all the other thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!