Five ways for leaders to build their own confidence

Every coaching assignment, whether it be with an executive or a team, will at some point circle around to the topic of confidence. True confidence, not the overplayed type that is really only a cover for feeling inadequate or insecure, is a sexy, appealing trait that serves people and organisations well.

Research from the University of Melbourne shows what many people instinctively knew, that is confident people earn more money and have stronger career opportunities than their peers who are less confident.  Lead author Dr Reza Hasmath, from the University’s School of Social and Political Sciences, said the findings also shed new light on previous studies that argued the existence of ‘erotic capital’, meaning better looking people are more likely to get ahead in the workplace or studies which indicate taller people earn higher salaries. However, the research shows that higher confidence levels — which may be a by product of attractiveness and height — which make all the difference,” said Dr Hasmath.

While there can be much focus on what confident people do – what is more important is what enables that – what confident people believe and think which then triggers these behaviours. Truly confident people are inherently happy in their own skin. They draw their self worth from within themselves and as a result do not seek nor need the approval or attention from others. They also have an “internal locus of control” which means they believe they can impact and affect their lot. They are masters of their own destiny as opposed to be powerless in what happens to them and the role they play.

Dr. Travis Bradberry who wrote Emotional Intelligence 2.0 suggests there are some cardinal behaviours that confident leaders exhibit regularly. Like all behaviours these can be learned and cultivated.  Understanding the underlying beliefs and thinking patterns which underpin the behaviour, will make the behaviour easier to master.

Here are five behaviours and beliefs that all leaders can develop.

Don’t pass judgment
Confident people tend not to pass judgment on others. There is nothing for them to gain or protect themselves from through the criticism of others. They understand that those who overtly judge others quietly judge themselves. Those people become their own biggest critic and over time this actually saps their own confidence. Ironically this leads to a downward spiral of judging more- decreasing confidence- judging more etc.

Confident leaders look for where people can contribute. The leadership behaviour they exhibit is to actively look for the best strengths of their people.

Know how to say no and stress less
One global CEO recently told a meeting of international leaders in an advanced leadership development program held in Basel that his biggest learning as a CEO was to ‘ruthlessly guard his diary’. Studies from The University of California shows that those leaders who have difficulties in saying no to requests tend to have higher levels of burnout, stress and depression. The mindset confidant leaders adopt is that their time is finite and needs to be spent on the most strategic and important priorities. The behaviour sounds like a clear answer to requests which leave the asker in no doubt that the leader is either available or is not.

They develop strong oration skills
Remember the Presidential candidate who told his country, “Yes we can!”? Barack Obama is renowned for his speaking skills and for years instilled a sense of confidence because of how he connected with audiences. The behaviours confident leaders exhibit are to speak with certainty and clarity whilst accentuating the main points they want to be heard. Confident leaders believe that their fundamental role is to influence others and speaking well is the most basic form of influence.

Being wrong is actually right
“I don’t know the answer you are looking for but let me come back to you”, is a common approach most sales representatives are taught in sales training 101. Confident leaders are confortable with both offering their opinions, often to see if they land well but also knowing that having diverse opinions in a team can only be healthy and are happy to be wrong for the greater good. In 2020 we have seen many examples around the globe with business and political leaders assuming they knew better than Covid 19. They were proven wrong and yet many continued to profess they were right all along, to their detriment.

It was them not me
Confident leaders learn that their rewards and fulfilment come through the success of others. They do not overtly seek the limelight or public recognition preferring to direct that to others. Publicly acknowledging the source of ideas or proposals that are deemed to be positive and raising the profile of up and coming employees is an important behaviour confident leaders exhibit. The mindset they embrace stems from a sense of self worth that is internalised, i.e. their rewards do not come from external public recognition. Rather they are able to focus outwards and help assist others to succeed and gain recognition as a result.

So, if you are seeking to increase your confidence, the pay off is potential career promotions, salary increases with less associated stress. Not bad!

So, on a scale from 1-10, how truly confident are you?

Padraig (Pod) O’Sullivan is the Founding Partner of The Leadership Context, a leadership advisory firm specialising in top team development and accelerating leadership transitions. He is the author of the award winning ‘Foreigner In Charge’ book series.

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When Leaders Inspire Confidence Through Feedback, Everyone Wins

Today I saw a leader of an organisation do something that I have never seen done before and it had an amazing impact on everybody in the room. The Managing Director of a global healthcare organisation gave feedback to each of her direct reports in a way that will have a lasting, uplifting impact on them I suspect for the rest of their lives.

Here’s what she did.

She approached everybody that reports into the leadership team and asked them for feedback on their leader. However, she didn’t stop there.

Specifically, she asked them to give her some words or phrases that would give her insight into

(a) the greatest strengths each leader has and
(b) what they like the most about working for that person.

Initially she received feedback by email, she told the team, and then she followed up with a conversation with individuals and groups. This allowed her to get more anecdotal stories and greater insight into each leader that she was receiving feedback upon.

She then continued by saying to the team collected in front of her;

However, she did not stop there.

She took the feedback for everybody and created a visual word cloud that captured the main comments and consistent themes that emerged. She then framed each of these into a picture frame.

Today at the end of a leadership team meeting she got up in the front of the room to talk about the last 12 months and how proud she was of the team in terms of its achievements.

She then continued by saying:

“Not only am I convinced that you are all the right people to be on this team, I know for sure that everyone who reports to you is also convinced you are the right people to lead this organisation.

How do I know?  I went and asked them … !”

A pin could have dropped in the room as people waited in anticipation as to what was coming next. She then individually presented each person with their framed word cloud and gave an individual tailored narration as to what their team had said about them and why that leader was important to each team as well as the impact they were having.


As an observer of this process it was amazing to watch how everybody filled with pride “for their colleagues“. As everybody was receiving the feedback and framed word cloud their colleagues beamed with pride as they listened to the feedback that was being shared. The room felt palpably different at the end of the 40 minutes. The trials and tribulations that the team had undergone in the previous 12 months suddenly seemed to dissipate into the ether. All the effort they had put in to turn around an organisation seemed minimal compared to the verbal and positive feedback they were receiving from…effectively the organisation.

What struck me afterwards was how simple an act this was by their leader.

The idea of approaching members of the organisation to give feedback to their leaders in two specific areas and then to delve a bit deeper is one thing but then to take that positive feedback and with a genuine sense of authenticity create something memorable for each of those leaders was entirely different.

To top it off was to take the time to present that to them in a public forum in front of their peers and genuinely share her pride in the fact that they were on the team I think is relatively unique. It was the best positive leadership team feedback session I have ever been a part of.

Well done, leader!

Well done, team.