I work with plenty of leaders who are feeling low in confidence.
They’re capable, thoughtful people with solid skills. But still, they’re subject to nagging doubts about their capability and ability to lead effectively.
Confidence is a hot topic in many fields, and there is a general yearning for everyone to feel confident about what they’re doing.
In this post, I’m going to take a different point of view, and look at some of the benefits that might actually come from feeling low in confidence.
What’s the Big Deal About Confidence?
In leadership, confidence can be a valuable asset.
When you’re feeling confident, you’re more likely to:
- Believe that you can succeed
- Act in ways that help you succeed
- Be kinder to yourself when things don’t go as planned; and
- Project a contagious aura that helps other people to feel confident.
Leaders often need to deal with a variety of stakeholders, and showing confidence can help them feel more at ease too.
After all, it’s easier to trust someone who looks like they’ve got it under control.
Good News: You Don’t Need to Feel Confident to Do Stuff
The good news that sometimes doesn’t seem obvious is that you don’t need to feel confident to take action.
You can probably find examples of this from your own experience.
When you first started leading a team, you possibly didn’t feel confident. But you did it anyway, and here you are.
When I first gave a speech, I was extremely nervous. I was certainly low in confidence.
But, by putting one foot in front of the other, I ended up on the stage in front of people. I had to do something, so I started speaking and before I knew it, I’d given a speech.
The feeling of confidence often comes afterwards, when you recognise your accomplishment.
It’s a result of taking action, not a requirement to take action.
Learn More: Leadership Confidence Problem? Let’s Diagnose It.
Why Feeling Low In Confidence Can Be a Positive Thing
If we recognise that we don’t need to feel confident to take action, then we can see that being low in confidence is not necessarily a barrier to success.
So let’s talk about feeling low in confidence from a leadership point of view.
I believe that lower levels of confidence can actually produce positive leadership behaviours. And here’s why.
1. You are more realistic about what you know
One of the things I noticed earlier in my leadership career was that I felt like I needed to know everything.
When someone asked me a question, I felt like I need to know the answer, almost regardless of what the question was!
But when you are low in confidence, it’s likely that you’ll be well aware of your shortcomings, particularly your knowledge gaps. You’ll know that there is lots of stuff that you don’t know.
So what do you think happens when you realise you don’t know everything?
You are more likely to believe that you’ll need other people to help you. People who know more about the topic than you do.
And those people are very likely to exist in your team, or somewhere else in your organisation.
This creates the likelihood that you will ask others for advice or recommendations and to share their experiences. This is important in creating an inclusive, collaborative environment as opposed to one where you run with only your own ideas.
2. You become better prepared
For me, feeling low in confidence was a signal. A signal that told me that I wasn’t prepared to enter into a situation.
Once I felt that signal, it prompted me to be better prepared.
It encouraged me to do some more research, planning, to do some practice or to think of potential challenges that could occur and develop solutions for them.
Once I’d done my additional preparation, I usually felt better about the situation and my stress levels decreased.
The message here is that your lack of confidence could be a signal telling you to do something.
The opposite situation would be feelings of over-confidence, and that “I’ve got this”. While it can be nice to feel this way, it could also be a sign of complacency or that you haven’t really thought through the reality of your situation.
But what if you do your preparation and you still don’t feel confident? I’ll cover that later in the post.
3. Being low in confidence can help you appear more authentic
Ever met someone who appears to have all the answers?
What about someone who never acknowledges their shortcomings or the limits of their knowledge and experience?
I don’t know about you – but I find it hard to trust people like this.
Why? Because it’s not real. It’s a show.
When people open up about their limitations or worries, I start to see them as a more credible person, because everyone has these things.
And when someone shows us “behind the curtain” and helps us see how they’re really feeling, I tend to feel closer to them, because I can often observe similar traits in myself.
If you’re feeling low in confidence, you might choose to share this information with others around you. Perhaps you’ll let people know what some of your worries are, or that you’re nervous about an upcoming event.
It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s actually a display of courage and vulnerability.
Learn More: Why Leaders Should Show Vulnerability at Work.
But… Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
There are a few further points to keep in mind if you are feeling low in confidence as a leader.
Observe your thoughts and emotions, so you can respond the right way
Let’s briefly revisit point #1 about being more realistic about what you know – this can go both ways.
Sometimes, people realise their limitations and use them to ask others for help and input.
But… others will feel their lack of knowledge is a weakness, and will pretend to know more than they should, or avoid situations where they may feel like they’ll be shown up.
Pay attention to your thoughts and emotions, and spot when you feel insecure. Then be sure to take that feeling and respond to it in a positive way.
Preparation is a useful tool. Procrastination is not.
Remember point #2, where your low confidence helps you prepare?
Well, there’s another side to that, too.
Preparation is a useful tool. You’ll research, you’ll plan and you’ll practice. These are all positive things.
Until you do them over and over, convincing yourself that you need to do more of them. That’s procrastination.
If you’ve prepared and planned, and you still feel nervous, that’s normal. Going and doing the thing is the next step.
Find the balance to show your authenticity.
Showing vulnerability is a great way to build trust and openness, as researcher Brené Brown tells us.
However, it’s all about balance.
If you admit your faults, fears and weaknesses in every conversation, you’re likely to come across as a leader who people are scared to follow.
Open up about your limitations, but don’t forget to show your strengths along the way.
Learn More: Start Being Trustworthy For Your Team: Here’s How.
We Can Be Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
If we can approach our lack of confidence as being a source of useful information, its negative impact can be reduced.
It is simply a signal, telling us to be more prepared or perhaps that we need more input from others.
As you grow and learn, you’ll continuously face a crisis of confidence, because you’re pushing your boundaries.
A sure sign that you’re growing as a leader is when you can harness the feeling and go and do the hard thing anyway.
What do you think? Can being low in confidence be a good thing, or am I just writing nonsense? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!