About every six months, I receive a magazine from my high school that I usually scan through and immediately throw in the recycling bin. However, the winter issue of “Hallways” captured my attention not just because it had actress Reese Witherspoon’s picture on it (yes, she went to my high school), but more importantly because it contained an article entitled “Building Confidence,” written by Jess Hill, the high school’s Director. . Not only did this issue of “Hallways” not make it to the recycling bin, but is has remained in my briefcase because the content is so pertinent to the topic of leadership.
The article struck me so deeply because confidence is something I have been struggling with lately. When I told some of my colleagues about my confidence gap they replied, “You? Are you kidding me? You always seem so confident.” Their reaction pushed me to ask myself. “What is going on? Why am I feeling so agitated, unmotivated and unsure of myself right now?” The answer, “Confidence is dynamic” made me feel simultaneously encouraged, yet discouraged. Like many people, my confidence is derived from those skills, behaviors and decisions which I have mastered or that come naturally to me. However, each and every time (sigh) that I think about beginning something new or starting on a different path, my confidence level drops back to ground zero. Instead of leveraging my success in past achievements to propel me into the unknown, for some reason, self-doubt seems to take over.
As leaders (if nothing more than of our own life), we must find a way to draw upon our confidence, and rise to new challenges so we can live powerful, prosperous lives. Funny thing is, I wrote about this exact same concept in my book “People Leadership”, I write about the practice “Faith it until you make it.” I shared that as a leader you will be asked to do new things and you will fear the unknown and doubt your abilities; however, you must overcome them by having faith in yourself and do them anyway. Crazy how easy it is to forget to apply what we teach others in our own lives! “Building Confidence” was an excellent and well-timed reminder for me because it highlighted the key inhibitors to confidence that described much of the reactions and feelings I’ve been experiencing lately.
While the article was geared towards the young women in my all-girl high school, I am certain people of all genders, ages, economic levels and races have confidence issues at some point in their lives. Even those individuals who appear arrogant. Arrogance is nothing more than a mask for and an overcompensation for lack of self-belief. So what does it take to build confidence and how can we use that in becoming better leaders in our personal and professional lives? There are five actions you can take and encourage those you lead to take to boost self-assurance.
- Pitch the perfectionism. News flash……no one is perfect regardless of how it appears, so let’s give it up! I catch myself trying to make things perfect especially when I am trying something totally outside of my comfort zone. I trick myself into thinking I am simply trying to create quality work; however, the truth is that strive for perfection serves as a nice delay tactic and gives me permission to no move forward. The big joke on me is, “How do I know what perfect looks like?” There will be some flaw or shortcoming regardless of how much effort I put into something because in reality nothing is perfect. Striving to be perfect leads to inaction. Being bold enough to know when good is good enough, to take action and learn from mistakes brings success. Leaders pitch being perfect and make things happen.
- Fear not failure. What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? Your answer is probably something like “Anything and everything I have ever dreamed of.” However, our society has puts too much negative spin on failure, yet failure does not really exist. Let me demonstrate. Think of something you did that you would consider a failure. Now think about what you learned from that experience. Your inner critic is probably saying, “I learned I shouldn’t have taken the risk”, but once those words fade, you will with almost 100% certainty discover you learned some lesson that provided a positive outcome at a later date. Einstein said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If he had feared failure some of our greatest inventions, including the lightbulb, may never have come to life. Most of the individuals we see as great leaders experienced personal or professional mishaps just like us, but they did not let fear of failing stop what they believed in. Leaders don’t fear failure, they welcome it.
- Check in with Criticism. Oooh, this is a big one for many of us, including me. After all, every single person walking this planet wants to be loved and appreciated for their ideas and actions. We have such a strong desire for people to like what we do that all we want to hear is “good job” or “great idea.” Our brains are wired to hear anything other than those responses as negative. Our innate animal instincts drive us automatically into survival mode and cause us to hear those responses as a threat. What if we retrained ourselves to hear criticism for what it really is? Feedback. Try this. The next time someone shares an opinion that feels critical, take a moment to quiet your animal instincts and listen without judgment to the words they are saying. If you are open and willing to hear it, you will most likely find amazing feedback which, if taken, may make your results even better. Leaders check in with criticism and turn it into positive feedback.
- Stop Self-Doubt. I don’t know about you, but I have this tape that seems to run over and over in my head every time I start something new, have a big decision to make or am working on an important project. It goes something like this, “Do you have what it takes to do this?”, “What if I am wrong?”, or even worse, “I’m not good enough.” No matter how much personal development work I do, these doubts keep rearing their ugly heads. What’s more they get louder and more incessant when I venture into a new project or a vision that has the potential to make a huge impact for myself and others! This is where the mantra and practice of “Faith, it til, you make it” comes in handy. Anytime I hear that self-doubt, I remind myself to respond to that voice with “Thanks for sharing” and keep moving on. Every time I push through my self-doubt with the faith that I can do it, something amazing happens. Leaders stop doubting themselves and move full steam ahead.
- Cancel Comparison. We are obsessed with comparing ourselves with other people. I hate to admit it, but I find myself doing this more than I would like. Small thoughts like ‘I wish I had her hair” or “Man, I wish I could have a job like that” negate the gifts that I have in my life. I genuinely believe that we were all put on this earth with God given talents, beauty and spirits regardless of what the society norm looks like. We are meant to be unique and in order to be confident we must embrace and appreciate our specialness. The practice of gratitude is the main way to counteract comparison. When you are truly grateful for who you are and what you have, the need to compare yourself to anyone else goes away. Leaders cancel comparison with true gratitude for themselves.
To achieve any great success in life, you must have genuine self-confidence. Leaders recognize that confidence is not static, it comes and goes with every new change and new endeavor. Pitch the perfectionism, welcome failure, check in with criticism, stop the self-doubt and cancel the comparison mode. Then, watch your confidence soar to new heights! You will feel powerful prosperous and free in all areas of your life.