In this post, I am discussing the importance of acquiring self-confidence in your role as a leader. Being self-confident requires you to first become more self-aware. It is this self-knowledge that allows you to express yourself in a self-assured and unhesitating manner, and enables you to make sound decisions under pressure. Nadler (2011) says “self-confidence is a building block for success throughout one’s career, and is a key competency in the self-awareness cluster” of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence (EI), is a key ingredient for leadership success. Emotionally intelligent leaders are more resilient, adaptable and optimistic. Cherniss and Goleman (2001) identified 4 main ‘clusters’ of emotional intelligence in which leaders need to exhibit a good balance of personal and social competencies. They are:
- Self-Awareness (Understanding yourself)
- Self-Management (Managing yourself)
- Social Awareness (Understanding others)
- Relationship Management (Managing others)
Within these 4 areas or clusters, there are 20 competencies that leaders need to develop, but the 6 key competencies that leaders first want support with are: self-confidence, emotional self-control, teamwork &collaboration, communication, developing others, and empathy.
Below are 6 strategies you can use to help you improve your self-confidence.
Become aware of your inner dialogue. Pay attention to the constant stream of thoughts you keep asking yourself. Are they negative or positive? Are they building you up or putting you down? For example thoughts like “Why didn’t I have something intelligent to say at the meeting? Why did I put my foot in it again? When will I ever learn? What is wrong with me? Why do I keep making mistakes? Surely, I should have known better? How could I be so stupid?” are not helpful and they are not constructive. If we ask ourselves unhelpful questions, we will create negative answers. To create better answers, we must ask ourselves better questions by changing the inner dialogue to constructive questioning e.g. “What can I learn from this? What is positive about this situation? What do I feel good about here? What is the best way for me to deal with this issue? How could I do it differently next time?”
Take some quiet private time. Carve regular dedicated ‘me’ time into your work day. Take a ½ hour at lunch time and go for walk or sit quietly in the park. Use this time to think through problems and reflect in a stop, think, change approach. i.e. Stop what you are doing. Think about your current thoughts and actions. Change what needs to be changed. And remember to use the constructive questioning technique outlined in point 1 above.
Visualize. For those most challenging situations you know are coming up (e.g. a conflict resolution meeting), plan to use visualization techniques during your quiet private time. Nadler says “imagine yourself in the situation, performing exactly the way you want to perform. This kind of pre-practice informs your nervous system and helps create neural pathways to make the performance more natural.” Focus on the outcome you want, and visualize it happening the way you want it to happen. Picture what others are saying, and how you are feeling and imagine a successful outcome.
Be decisive. Being decisive does not mean you should jump straight in and make a quick decision without first gathering the data! Au contraire. When a team is engaged in a decision making process, it is better for team leaders to hold back and listen. If leaders impose their viewpoints and opinions too early in the process, the group tends to hold back and will generate less ideas and viewpoints of their own. Strong leaders are good listeners and consensus builders and act mainly as facilitators, contributing their views at the end. The benefits of this approach are twofold. Firstly, you will have gathered necessary information through the discussion process, and secondly, because the group contributed their ideas to the discussion, you are more likely to have ‘buy-in’ as you make the final decision. In making your decision, it is crucial that you:
(a) Cross-examine every precedent. Just because an approach worked before, does not necessarily mean it will work now. Don’t rely on old data for insight on a current decision;
(b) Clarify assumptions. Am I taking information for granted? Am I believing without proof? Are expectations too high?;
(c) Have others challenge your thinking. Don’t be afraid to be wrong or to admit to making mistakes.
Reinforce people. Read your people and keep them motivated. Engage with them by asking them questions to find out more about how they think and what they do. Acknowledge and support their efforts. Successfully building confidence in others helps to build confidence in your own abilities.
Create realistic expectations. Beware of unrealistic goals as these set you up for failure or frustration and reinforce the negative self-talk cycle that I mentioned earlier in point 1. For example, planning for ‘perfection’ is not realistic. Perfection is a lofty ideal, as opposed to a realistic goal. Learn to know the difference between ideals and goals. Striving for an unattainable goal causes anxiety on a sub-conscious level as the mind becomes overwhelmed with the task. A typical response to being overwhelmed is to procrastinate and this disguises itself as “I need more time to prepare and think.” This in turn leads to more procrastination and more negative self-talk like “I am not cutting it! I don’t have this under control! Why didn’t I get this done sooner? I should have done better! How could I be so stupid?” Become aware of this unproductive pattern, understand what causes it and how this influences your behaviour and performance. Know what to change to get different results by using the stop, think, change strategy mentioned in point 2 above.
References: Nadler, R. S. (2011). Leading with emotional intelligence. USA: McGraw-Hill.
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