Real Leaders

Top 10 Tips for Building Your Confidence

Confidence is the engine of success. The advantages of confidence are eye-popping. Social research confirms that your personal confidence is a more accurate predictor of your success then competence.

The reason is simple. Confident people learn what they need to learn and do what they need to do to overcome failures and setbacks that are inevitable along any journey of human achievement. Confidence is a hot topic these days. One reason is that there is strong evidence there is a confidence gap between men and women. And that gap is holding women back from getting their fair share of opportunities for rapid advancement and senior leadership. But a lack of confidence is not just a woman thing.

So many times when I’m in a senior leadership meeting and a director or VP walks in to present a new opportunity or solve a big problem their confidence becomes a topic of discussion after they leave. In business speak ‘executive presence’ is the tag given to how confident a young leader appears. 

HR research reveals that a lack of executive presence is a promotion killer. 

And I have personally witnessed many good ideas not seriously considered because the presenter seemed a bit timid, insecure or unsure. Confidence not only powers success, it’s also emotionally magnetic. Studies show that confident people are listened to more carefully, inspire loyalty and are more widely admired. Yep… confidence matters.

Let’s Build Your Confidence…

The good news is that confidence can be developed. It can be instilled as an authentic foundation of your personality if you’re willing to change your inner story and outer behavior.
There are two core dimensions of confidence that must be harnessed to get the advantage of its full power. 
One dimension is Practical Confidence the second is Profound Confidence. Today I am going to show you a roadmap on how to increase your practical confidence. Next week I’ll do the same for profound confidence. So here we go… To avoid any confusion, let me call out the enormous difference between fake confidence and real confidence. Fake confidence is your belief that you can manipulate opinion and successfully blame others when you fail. It’s nothing more than bluster. 
Only delusional people can continue to fail, insist they are right and everyone else is wrong and remain confident. 
We all know lots of delusional people. We have elected many to public office, we have all had delusional bosses, and nearly all of us have delusional relatives. So let me be clear…bluster is not confidence, it’s psychosis.
Real confidence is your belief in your ability to succeed no matter what.
Genuine confidence drives you to continuous action. This drive for ‘action learning’ is practical confidence. It’s practical because it produces results, which triggers learning and improvement. When others sense you will learn what you need to learn and do what you need to do to succeed they experience your confidence.
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What Really Matters…

In my experience of coaching people to have stronger executive presence by deepening their belief in their ability to succeed, there is one essential that matters.You have to have an authentic agenda.  You must have a practical goal that you care enough about that burns off the fog of fear. And when I say something you care about…
I mean something that really inspires you. 
It has to be so personally motivating that you are able to psychologically toughen yourself to withstand criticism, blow off judgments and transcend discouragement.
Knowing what you want is the foundation of confidence. Spending your life achieving other people’s goals will keep you weak.
Your authentic agenda is a source of grit…which is your unbreakable will to learn and persist through the successive ups and downs experienced on any journey to a worthwhile outcome. No one succeeds without failing first. It’s good to remember that confidence is situational. There are some areas of your life where you are extremely confident. Many people are confident in their driving. From what I can tell, overconfident. But it didn’t start out that way.
Nearly 80% of young drivers have accidents within 24 months of getting a drivers license. Most young drivers are tense, distracted and are quick to panic under unexpected challenges. Confidence grows with time and consistency. In spite of accidents new drivers continue to drive…learning to get better. What enables millions of people to gain the confidence to drive in spite of the fact that it’s quite dangerous (there are about 200,000 traffic accidents a year in the U.S.) is that young drivers are very motivated to get the benefits of personal mobility.  
So they overcome their fears and dismiss evidence that they’re lousy drivers to eventually become competent. And that brings up an interesting point. Your authentic agenda…your goal that inspires you…doesn’t have to be world changing. I see plenty of leaders who have an agenda to increase sales, improve production, or bring a new innovation to market. Most often these are not world changing goals. Selling more jeans, speeding up software development or negotiating a vendor contract will not change the future of humankind. Nevertheless, a leaders’ confidence in the pursuit of these goals will often make the difference between ultimate success and failure.

Here’s the Key…

The key of course is to stay focused on the goal rather than yourself. The killer of confidence is self-doubt and self-consciousness. When I was learning to speak in public I had a very difficult time. I wanted to be great but I sucked. I would scan the audience for support, looking for a smiling face or nodding head. If I didn’t see any visible signs of affirmation my inner voice would begin to attack my confidence.“They don’t understand what you’re talking about; they are not buying what you’re saying; they’re bored; they don’t think your funny; they can’t wait for you to finish.” Now as soon as I allow that voice to infect my confidence I start to physically sweat.
Then all of my inner energy dissipates and I spiral downward into a human slug… which confirms all my inner fears. All this happens because my goal is wrong. Instead of having a practical goal of teaching an audience something valuable my goal shifts to being popular or admired. As soon as that happens my power evaporates. The best advice Stephen Covey ever gave me about public speaking was to “seek to bless not to impress.” That changed everything for me. And gave me confidence to stay with my teaching message with sincerity and conviction even if people are messing around on their iPhones. If I stay with my agenda, my confidence stays strong and peoples’ attention returns.
Now let me give some tools that will magnify your confidence.
Critical thinking. If you were going to be effective against people with bluster who insist on making unfounded criticisms you need to strengthen your critical thinking skills.  When someone is forcefully making a point that is just plain wrong you can take the breath away from that blowhard by pointing out the logical fallacy he or she is relying on. Here are three common ones.
  1. Confirmation Bias. This happens when somebody only presents evidence that confirms their bias. This is very common. It’s what got us into the war in Iraq.  Recently released records show that Dick Cheney insisted the CIA only provide evidence that supported the existence of WMDs.  Analysts who tried to present contrary evidence were reassigned. This doesn’t just happen in politics. Nearly all leaders fall prey to the temptation that reality conforms to their theories. If you find yourself needing to go against thinking-as-usual to achieve your goal it really helps to point out how considering your data and evidence requires an open mind, free of confirmation bias.
  2. Attribution Error. It’s all too human to look for a single cause to any affect. A common attribution error is that employees are primarily motivated by money and the positive or negative judgment of their boss. It turns out human motivation is extremely complicated.  Low paid people doing repetitive work are often motivated to produce more by money. Highly paid experts are much more motivated intrinsically to solve interesting and worthwhile problems for their own sake. The point is, most things in life have multiple causes. Pointing this fact out in the pursuit of your goal will often neutralize dismissive critics.
  3. Unexamined Assumptions. This is the mother of logical fallacies. Unexamined assumptions are often promoted in time-worn bromides. For instance, in an age of unexpected disruptive competition, ‘going back to the basics’ is a path to oblivion. Just ask a publisher in the newspaper industry. If you want to see the ocean about examined assumptions we swim in just ask yourself, “What would have to be true for______________( fill-in the blank) to be true?” What you will find is that most people are making decisions based on unexamined assumptions.
A lot of illogical people act confident and try to assert their power by forcing their decisions and viewpoint on you.  Don’t let them. Point out the fallacy in their logic. Don’t let them off the hook for sloppy thinking. Again, be committed to your authentic, practical goal. Exercise grit. Don’t give up or give in.

Tips for Building Your Confidence…

I’ll conclude with a list of the top 10 tips that can strengthen your confidence. These are not a substitute for having an agenda but they are psychological protein that can help strengthen your resolve:
  1. Ask others what they most admire about you. Those are your strengths. Rely on them in hard moments…nurture them.
  2. Increase your energy by getting eight hours of sleep, moving throughout the day, and eating a healthy diet.
  3. Dress and groom yourself in a way that reflects your self-respect.
  4. Create a place at home that’s a refuge from stress. Go there daily, read, reflect and write in ways that feed your soul. This is the way you take control of your inner voice.
  5. Engage in vigorous exercise. Strengthen your body…it will strengthen your confidence.
  6. Focus daily on what you want for your career and your life. Act on opportunities that advance your self-agenda.  Progress builds confidence.
  7. Deepen your friendships with people who genuinely love you and encourage you. Avoid critics and cynics and all mean people.
  8. Empathize but don’t apologize for problems you did not cause. If you’re constantly saying your sorry people will think their problems are your fault.
  9. Strive to be an expert. Be curious. Constantly learn. Share what you are learning. Assert your point of view. Be tolerant of conflict. Shake off mistakes. Be excited about who you are and what you can do.
  10. Don’t apologize for your goals for the life you want… ever!

To summarize the scientific formula for building confidence is: Have goals you are willing to stick to.

Stand up for your point of view with evidence and logic and confront those who oppose you by naming their logical fallacies. (If that doesn’t get you anywhere find a new place to work. Working with fools is foolish.) Develop your confidence muscles by exercising the top 10 tips. Now that I’ve talked to you about practical confidence you’re ready to go a little deeper… profound confidence. That’s the confidence you can gain that no tragedy, loss or disappointment can take away. I will explain it next week. In the meantime, remember…

Everyone has a difference to make and what you do matters.


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