One of the key tenets of leading others, although rarely talked about in ‘leadership publications’, is having the confidence to lead others. People look to Leaders for surety and although there are many definitions of leadership one of the common themes is being able to inspire others towards a collective goal and/or vision.
But what happens if you are lacking in confidence? How do you build it? How can you inspire others if internally you are lacking in confidence?
I see this so often. Externally we might appear to be confident, but internally we are self-doubting, self-questioning. Some people can fake it, of course they can, but how can you develop a really grounded, unassailable confidence that will both serve you and keep you connected to your team with humility and not arrogance?
It’s healthy to be have a degree of self-awareness that provokes questions of doubt. Those questions are there to serve and guide us, just as is our certainty, but how do we keep this aspect of ourself in check.
1. Start by recognising that self-doubt is normal. You are wired for doubt - it helps keep you safe. I think of my internal doubting voices as little gremlins. Some of the time they are useful. Other times, it’s important to see them for what they are - internal voices designed to keep me safe from risking something such as embarrassment, foolishness, being found wanting.
2. Take a good look at your experience - the good stuff and not so good stuff. OK, what got you here might not get you there as the saying goes, but your experience is still valuable. Your previous experience and everything that you have learned along the way stands you in good stead to make adjustments and to try something new. Your experience is with you always. It’s your past and it can metaphorically be thought of as being able to push you forwards. Sheryl Sandberg talks about ‘Leaning In’ so lean into your experience and your capabilities.
3. Recognise that taking a risk is OK. Every leadership book, every successful entrepreneur will tell you that you have to be willing to risk. You have to be willing to risk walking on the edge. Brené Brown in her book Daring Greatly (http://brenebrown.com) tells us that in order to manage feelings of shame one of the best things we can do is be willing to share our shame story with a buddy. I think it is the same with taking a risk. Share your concerns about your risk (which is no more than an assessment anyway) and share it with someone who cares about you. Be clear what you need from them - anything from simply listening to offering reassurance. Be willing to share how you think you will feel. It’s more likely that the feelings (that you anticipate if you do take a risk and it doesn’t go smoothly) are more likely to be in control than the ‘technical’ elements of what you are stepping up to.
4. Learn to recognise how lack of confidence feels for you. Literally how does it feel at the level of bodily sensation. Where does your breath go? What happens in your body? Lack of confidence - much like all emotional states comes with a set of sensations. Knowing what they are gives us the ability to take a look at them and acknowledge them. We potentially have a better chance of managing our felt sensations if we can observe them. By calmly observing what we are feeling we create a micro second of space to slow things down and to choose to do something different.
5. Do something different. Get a hold of these sensations by staying with them and replacing them. Learn to centre and ground. (Read a 'Centered Way of Being' for how to do that.) Think of centering as a way in which we can organise ourselves to be more effective, more in control, more calm and impactful. Notice how you feel when centred. Most people report feeling calmer, more dignified, more confident. Learn to recognise these feelings, practice accessing them. Practice constantly in order to make it a new (conscious) habit.
6. Connect with your purpose. How does what you need to deliver or step up to connect with your leadership purpose? Your reason for being here, leading a team of people? Shift the balance of your self-doubt towards why you are doing this job. What is the purpose for today, for this ‘event’ and how does this link to the bigger picture of what you need?
7. Imagine your success. What does success look like, feel like, sound like? Lean into that vision. Let it stay with you a while. Learning to visualise, hear, and feel sensationally is great for re-wiring the body towards success, rather than being held by the risk of failure.
8. Begin with small steps. How do you eat an elephant? You do you climb a mountain? It’s one step at a time. Make them small steps, so small they may seem trivial and eventually the obstacles will have melted.
9. Savour each step of success. Don’t move away from it too quickly, allow the feeling of success to be present. Some of us brush ourselves down and move onto the next thing , the next step quickly, not honouring what we have achieved so far (a bit like not really paying attention to praise for a job well done). Others of us, stay too long in the savouring stage as a way of avoiding moving onto the next step. Know which camp you fall into and practice staying just that bit longer, or moving on just that bit quicker.
And remember the next time the gremlins creep up on you, turn and look them in the eye, kindly thank them for their help. And then let them know that you are going to be fine anyway. Today is the day to start feeling confident, moving confidently, to being open, to being less afraid, or at least comfortable with being afraid. We have all heard of fake it until you make it - pay heed to the pointers above, practice and eventually you will no longer be faking it.