12 Ways to Develop Leadership Confidence

I was in a talent-review meeting recently and we were discussing the strengths and development needs of a promising young leader. When I asked what the leader’s biggest development need was, the answer was “confidence.”

When faced with a development need, I can usually ad lib a pretty good development plan, but I drew a blank on this one. Total brain cramp. So I asked the rest of the group, “How do you develop confidence?” The only answer they could come up with was “experience.” Or more specifically, give the person time to build up a track record of wins.

But that can’t be the only way to develop leadership confidence, right? Sit back and wait? That wouldn’t explain why some young, early-career leaders ooze confidence and other more experienced, successful leaders still project a lack of confidence.

After doing a little research, I came up with the following 12 ways to develop leadership confidence.

  1. Learn about leadership. Take a course, read a few books and study the great leaders. Learn what leaders do and don’t do. Learn the frameworks, tools and skills required to lead. The more you know about a subject, including leadership, the more confident you’ll be.

  2. Network with other leaders. While it’s good to learn about leadership from courses and reading, putting those ideas into practice is hard and mistakes will be made. Having a network or support group of peers is a healthy way to share common, real-world challenges. It will give you the knowledge that “I’m not the only one who feels this way.”
  3. Develop realistic self-awareness. Knowing your leadership strengths will give you confidence, and facing up to your development needs will help you determine what you need to focus on to get better.
    Feedback will give a leader realistic self-awareness. Plus, leaders who ask for feedback are seen as more confident than those who don’t.

  4. Help others be more successful. Leadership confidence isn’t just about building your own track record of wins. The essence of leadership is helping others around you become more successful. Help others gain self-awareness, coach them and help put them in the best position to be successful.

  5. Celebrate wins. When your teammates or colleagues hit a milestone or do something awesome, let them—and everyone else—know. This isn’t about tooting your own horn, it’s about getting into the habit of looking for and recognizing the wins of others.
  6. Look confident. Pay attention to your physical appearance. Losing weight, getting in shape, a new pair of glasses, new hairstyle, a new suit or a new pair of shoes can make you feel and look more confident. Watch your posture, make eye contact, smile and use a firm grip when you shake hands.

  7. Learn and practice positive psychology. Optimism and happiness can be learned. 

  8. Develop your emotional intelligence (EQ). Self-confidence is the mark of an emotionally intelligent leader. EQ isn’t something you are born with; it too can be learned and developed.
  9. Project confidence. While you may be terrified inside, learn to “fake it till you make it” by appearing confident. Terrified of public speaking? Take a presentation-skills course. 

  10. Ask others for help. Confident leaders know what they know and what they don’t know and are not afraid to ask for help. They draw on the talents of others without feeling threatened.

  11. Stop asking “Mother may I” and make a decision. Confident leaders would rather ask for forgiveness than permission and are comfortable making decisions without having 100 percent certainty.

  12. Develop a sense of humor.Well-timed humor will break the tension in a stressful situation and help put things in perspective.

Working on all of these at the same time would be overwhelming and impossible, so try picking one or two at a time. Look for incremental improvement and celebrate your success; before you know it, you’ll feel and act like a more confident leader.

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