Confidence can seem like one of those qualities or personality traits that you either have or don’t have. Because confidence is such an important component of leadership and is an observable quality in strong leaders, it can seem like being confident is something that just comes naturally to successful leaders.
It’s easy to think that to be confident means that you know you’re great at something. And certainly, having the skills and experience to master a task or activity is definitely confidence-building. But confidence isn’t something that is exclusively tied to years of experience or insider knowledge from performing a task or creating a process. Confidence is “your belief in how good you are at something, but it’s not a measure of your actual skill.” Confidence is required to take steps toward doing something that you’ve never tried before.
For those who struggle with their confidence, it’s easy to look at confident people and correlate their skills with their confidence. It makes logical sense to think that if only you were better at public speaking or had stronger presentation skills, then your presentation would have gone better. If your skills were sharper, then you’d have the confidence needed to perform better. People who are good at their jobs and possess the skills required to do them well have the confidence to perform at their best, right?
But even the most outwardly confident people have moments where their confidence is shaken. Seasoned CEOs, experienced surgeons, professional athletes, and people at all levels of their careers struggle with fear of failure, uncertainty, and judgment. The key differentiator between someone who is held back by a lack of confidence and a leader who is able to overcome that lapse is learning to notice those feelings of insecurity, identify what is causing it, and adapt and course-correct as necessary. At Valor, we believe that confidence can be built like a skill and reinforced like a habit. We include exercises on the foundations of confidence in our introductory course material and take a deeper look at confidence skills in our stand-alone course, Confidence: Building the Habit.
Get comfortable with your skills
Most people aren’t immediate experts. Skill development takes practice. If you want to be good at something, you need to practice. According to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project, “the best way to build confidence in a given area is to invest energy in it and work hard at it.” Taking time to prepare and practice naturally builds confidence in your ability to perform a task. If you are feeling anxious about an upcoming presentation, build your confidence by actually practicing delivering your presentation out loud before you speak to your audience. Trying out these skills in a setting where you feel comfortable, with a coworker or friend will not only boost your confidence when it comes time to actually delivering your presentation but will also improve the quality of your presentation itself.
This advice works for those who have a healthy sense of self-confidence as well as anyone who is struggling in feeling secure about their skills. Doing a “dry run” before a product launch, sales pitch, or other event can improve your confidence even if you’ve given the same talk dozens of times before. Even people who are confident in their abilities can improve by practicing and preparing beforehand. Familiarizing yourself with the material and information, even if it’s your area of expertise, can help to calm nerves and boost confidence.
Get comfortable asking for help
Confident leaders know that they don’t know everything, and are comfortable asking questions, seeking advice, and asking for help when they need it. Instead of letting ego get in the way by needing to do everything alone or worrying what other people will think of them, confident leaders enlist team members who are better equipped to handle certain situations or have a better-matched skill set for a project to contribute or offer input. While it might seem counterintuitive that confident people ask for help more often, it actually takes confidence to be able to ask for help.
Seeking help and guidance, whether in the form of assistance or advice from a coworker or expert, doing research on your own, or reading up on a topic is its own form of confidence. By acknowledging where your shortcomings are, you’re showing confidence in your ability to learn and grow as opposed to feeling overwhelmed by not knowing or deciding that the problem is just unsolvable.
Being comfortable asking for help is tied to knowing that your value to the team or project isn’t tied exclusively to your abilities. Katie Orenstein, founder and director of The OpEd Project says “Instead of agonizing about what others might think of you or your work, concentrate on the unique perspective you bring.” Taking self-promotion out of the equation will help you get out of your own way and can help you shift your mindset toward one of growth versus stagnation. Instead of viewing asking for help as an indication of your own shortcomings, removing that sense of ego and feeling comfortable asking for help can be reframed as having the courage to take the steps necessary to make the project or task as good as it can be.
Get comfortable with taking risks
Having a go-to approach that you’ve cultivated over the years can be a confidence booster when it comes to solving problems in the short term. And while it makes sense to play to your strengths and rely on your time-tested methods, if defaulting to the same strategy every time has made you hesitant to welcome new challenges, you might be actually hindering your growth by staying where you feel comfortable. According to Charlie Houpert, the author of Charisma on Command, “Confidence is ultimately about being comfortable in a wide variety of situations that would make most people feel uncomfortable. So if you stretch your comfort zone every day, very quickly you’ll have a large comfort zone and be able to feel more comfortable even when outside of it.”
In this case, it’s a matter of redefining comfort. Get comfortable being out of your comfort zone. As humans, we naturally try to avoid feeling afraid, but if fear is holding us back from attempting something new, from improving, or growing, then our comfort zone becomes a crutch. You’ll never know what you are capable of if you don’t test yourself with new approaches, new ideas, or new strategies. While it can feel scary to try and potentially fail, using these opportunities to learn and grow will ultimately give you the confidence to try new things without hesitation in the future.
Get comfortable with failure
You’ve heard the phrase “no risk, no reward.” Confident people are able to take more risks, which naturally leads to more rewards. But it also means that there is a greater chance of failing in taking a risk than if you play it safe by sticking to what you know. The key to confidence lies in getting more comfortable with failure, not in fearing or avoiding failure altogether.
Instead of the logic that becoming comfortable with failure means that you’re going to become a failure or that your team will only fail, being comfortable with failure allows leaders to take more risks, speak out without fear of judgment, and think outside the box. Being overly cautious and conservative might prevent you from failing or incurring judgment, but it will also prevent teams from making strides, innovating, or speaking up in front of a group.
Shift your perspective from thinking that a failure is a reflection of your ability, your value, or the quality of your work. Instead, view a failure as a learning opportunity to find out what you should try again next time or where you should shift your focus and approach. Confident people know that every attempt will not work 100 percent of the time, but in trying out new things–and failing–you’ll learn more about yourself, the process, the potential challenges, and other unknowns you might not have encountered otherwise. All this information is valuable and useful to building a better product, crafting a better sales pitch, or developing a more effective strategy.
Fortunately, building confidence and expanding your comfort zone are skills you can develop and hone on an ongoing basis. In order to be confident, you need to be comfortable with failure, admitting when you don’t know how to do something, asking for help, taking risks, and acknowledging that you provide value even if you think you don’t have the ability or skills to do the entire project on your own. This can feel daunting at first, but as you practice stepping out of your comfort zone, your confidence will grow and you’ll become more comfortable. This cycle of adapting to change and growth in a positive way creates a shift in mindset and will lead you to take action toward achieving your goals.