"How can I feel confident when I am speaking?" asked a participant in a recent workshop I conducted. While the question was specific to public speaking, the answer I gave is relevant to any leader, whether she is on stage giving a presentation or working with her team on an important project. The answer lies within you.
When it comes to leadership in the workplace, the primal spring of self confidence is an understanding of what you have accomplished and what you feel you can do next. This is not happy talk. Consider what has enabled you to achieve what you have achieved to date. When it comes to finding sources of accomplishment, you want to focus on the positives, your moments of triumph — those opportunities where you shone, helping yourself and your team achieve a goal.
Isolating your moments of strength is not the same as writing your curriculum vitae; graduating from college and landing a good job are highlights, of course, but when it comes to self-confidence you want to dig beneath the surface. Here are three related questions you can ask yourself to help you uncover your triumphant self:
What do you do well? This question opens the door for you to itemize the abilities that have enabled you to succeed to date. Focus on your talents: what you do well. For example, you may possess strong conceptual skills. You may be one who can think strategically, a person who can look at the big picture and see opportunities where others see only blue sky. Such abilities are your strengths; you owe it to yourself to recognize them.
Why should people follow you? You need a strong sense of self to lead others, so consider how you assess problems and find solutions. Look at occasions you have mobilized yourself and your team to tackle a tough assignment. Perhaps you took on a failing project and turned it into a winner. Or perhaps you found ways to reduce costs and improve efficiencies when others said it was impossible. In these instances, and in others you can remember, you have given people a reason to believe in your ability to get things done.
What have you done to earn the trust of others? This question should provoke a recall of what you have done to instill followership. You may have defused a conflict between two colleagues, or took the lead on nasty assignment that no one else wanted to handle. Or perhaps you went out of your way to see that senior management recognized the efforts of your team. Maybe you always accept accountability, not just for what goes right, but for what goes wrong. The search for the inner source of confidence is neither an excuse for overlooking your weaknesses nor an invitation to hubris. Rather it is an identification of the strengths that make up the authentic you. Self-awareness is an attribute vital to leadership effectiveness. While leaders know their weaknesses all too well, even good ones sometimes overlook their strengths. That mindset can lead to an erosion of self-confidence.
"Confidence is like a muscle," said a colleague of mine, Scott Litchfield of WJM Associates. If you don't use it, you will lose it. I like that analogy for two reasons. First, it connotes that confidence comes from within ; it is something we can work on. Second, it puts leaders who must demonstrate confidence in order to attract followership on notice that it is their responsibility to nurture it.
It's a leader's job to set direction and determine outcomes; that only happens when leaders feel confident in themselves.