You're not alone if you lack even a little leadership confidence. A lack of leadership confidence is very common and is nothing to worry about or be concerned with. However, you do need to develop higher confidence to become a high performing leader.
There are steps you can take to increase your confidence quickly. A lack of leadership confidence shouldn’t be a surprise either, as few leaders receive leadership development before taking on new leadership roles, and their senior level leaders often do not have the bandwidth or don’t make the time to coach and mentor them to the required level.
Here are 10 ways to develop your leadership confidence (click on any method to get more information about it):
Prioritize based on your biggest opportunities and take on only one or two at a time. Add new ones as you become proficient in the prioritized areas. You are likely to notice a change in your confidence very quickly.
Is leadership confidence a concern?
In our article “Concerned? Is there a leadership development crisis?”, we discussed how 77%* of organizations report that leadership within their teams is lacking and that only 5%* of companies have implemented leadership development at all levels! Understanding this, maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that many new or less experienced leaders lack leadership confidence.
“77% of organizations report that leadership within their teams is lacking and that only 5% of companies have implemented leadership development at all levels!
From our direct engagement with leaders through our leadership development programs, coaching, and on-site client projects, we have seen an increasing trend of leaders lacking confidence in their approach, response to team member issues, or their own decision making. These leaders exhibit high concern levels of making mistakes and seek assurance that they have done the right thing. The biggest risks we see are in matters that touch upon legal, legislation, and precedence setting.
There is good news here, too, though. We also see that, for the most part, these leaders are definitely on the right track. Rarely do we hear of situations or examples where they have made a mistake and never where they have made irreversible ones. Their asking for feedback also shows their maturity and desire to be the best leaders they can be. Although there is a reason for some concern, we can work with this!
It's not you; it’s us
So what might be driving this? Have new, less experienced leaders always lacked confidence?
Yes, I believe so! Making the jump from an individual contributor to leading others has always been a challenge when leading for the first time. However, I think it is more difficult for leaders today to get the help and support they need. I propose that the leadership development gap that exists in most organizations today may be driving this increasing trend we are seeing. Many leaders receive virtually no leadership development prior to taking on a leadership role but also have less exposure in the form of coaching, observation, and feedback from experienced leaders. Working remotely through COVID also didn’t help in these areas! There is also a lower tolerance in the leaders themselves for making mistakes. They hold themselves to a very high bar.
If you are a leader that lacks leadership confidence, be assured that it’s not you; it’s us! Us in the sense of your organization and experienced leaders who, for various reasons, do not provide the coaching and mentoring you need. Several things distract and detract experienced leaders from providing access and time for new leaders, some legitimate challenges, others not so much. However, we won’t get into those here. Also, know that although you may think only you feel this way, you are not alone.
10 Ways to develop your leadership confidence
1 Active & Healthy Professional Network
Often people consider a professional network as a way to find their next job opportunity. If this is you, you are missing so much! Having an active and healthy network is a must for any leader at all levels. This network and the resulting relationships can be used to share best practices, obtain input and feedback, bounce ideas off, and learn from each other. An active professional network takes time and energy. It should be built before ever seeking new opportunities.
Active means that you spend some time growing and nurturing your network. This does not include accepting any and all requests to connect on LinkedIn. It means maintaining and developing new professional contacts via LinkedIn, periodic 1:1s within your organization, lunches or dinners with past colleagues, and socializing at community or external business functions.
A healthy network flows both to and away from you, where you regularly support others, and they support you. You need to make the effort to respond and spend time with those in your network to help and support them when they need it. As well as not hesitate to reach out and ask them for support or assistance you could use. This is a form of mutual respect and is very rewarding. Your experience potential is greatly magnified as you have much more experience at your fingertips. Not only will you benefit from this experience, but your confidence will go up once you see that you have great experiences and that others have similar challenges.
2 Get a Leadership Coach
When taking up a new sport, we wouldn’t think of not getting some form of coaching. So why do we think we can get a leadership position and not benefit from having a coach?
Good coaching helps us learn quicker, determine the best ways of doing things, and challenge us to do more than we think we are capable of achieving. A coach does not tell us what we should do or how to do it but rather helps us solve our own challenges by asking probing questions and supporting us along the way. Coaches provide a safe environment to share your insecurities and admit your challenges and self-doubt. Having a coach can be a great confidence booster as they help you figure things out yourself.
3 Accept ambiguity in decision making
Typically, there is no right or wrong answer when making decisions. There are bad, better, and good decisions, but not right or wrong. A leader needs to gather the data or facts, solicit input and opinions, and make informed decisions in real time. Not making, excessive debate, or extended delays in making decisions are usually regrettable. We need to make informed decisions with the best information we have at the time and accept that there is always ambiguity in decision making.
4 Open vs closed door decisions
At Amazon, we were taught that there are open and closed door decisions. This was a concept to help leaders make faster decisions and to differentiate that all decisions are not the same and therefore require different levels of consideration in the decision making process.
Open door decisions are those that, once made (you walk through the decision door) can be reversed or changed without any significant difficulty or long term impact. In other words, the door remains open, and you can walk back through it again.
Closed door decisions are those that, once made, cannot be reversed or changed without significant difficulty or long lasting impact.
So then with open door decisions, you can make faster decisions and take more risks with ambiguity. For closed door decisions, you want to be more thorough, involve more stakeholders, conduct trials/pilots, check data/fact, gather more input, and conduct risk assessments, to mention a few. At the same time, recognize there remains some ambiguity.
5 Make values based decisions
Decisions that align or are based on your and your organization’s values are generally good decisions. This is not to say they are easy. Quite the opposite, actually. Often in these types of situations, there are equal but opposite forces at work that can make the decision process very painful. Staying true to values usually proves beneficial when considering and thinking long term. Decisions that go against your values often consider the immediate or short term and can lead to ethical, legal, and cultural impacts on you as the leader and the organization, not to mention a loss of trust and respect.
6 Ask for forgiveness, not permission
It may not be at a conscious level, but when we ask for permission, it lowers our confidence. What if the person doesn’t agree? What will they think of me? What will I do if they don’t agree?
Sure, a little bit of security comes with asking permission as you relieve yourself of some of the accountability. However, long term and continual seeking of permission reduces your ability to make your own decisions and, frankly, does not reflect well on you as a leader. Senior leaders want and expect the leaders below them to make their own decisions.
7 Failure is an option
Yes, failure is an option. Don’t be so afraid of making a mistake that you don’t make a decision or get into the habit of second guessing yourself.
We must accept that we won’t get it right or perfect every time. That’s what we mean here by failure. However, we seldom really fail, either. As long as we make the best decisions with the information available and learn from any mistakes, it’s not a failure! So, get over yourself and your fear of failure! Very few “mistakes” are really failures. Learn and move on.
The only critical failure is if someone gets hurt (or worse) or it’s a closed door decision that goes badly. There are not that many closed door decisions to be made for most leaders, and you’ll handle them a little differently when you do have to make them, as described in point number 4 above.
8 Be the leader you wish you had
This is a great Simon Sinek quote. If you’re struggling with a decision or situation involving your team or a team member, think of this quote, "Be the leader you wish you had." How would you wish or expect your leader to handle it if you weren’t the leader and were on the other side of a situation? That’s probably the best option! This is applicable to how you may handle situations, decisions to make, or actions to take or not take. It’s a simple but effective way to help you think through different situations.
9 Project confidence
First, we’re not advocating becoming arrogant and strutting around as though you know everything. What this means is don’t be a self-doubter. People can sense it, which can impact your reputation, but more so, it again lowers your self-esteem over time.
When I was leading a large and company wide project of significance, I had developed a habit of openly sharing all the problems we were facing in the project at the expense of not mentioning what was going well. I intended to be transparent and expected everything to go as planned, which clearly wasn’t. One day a senior leader asked me how things were going. I quickly rhymed off multiple problems I was dealing with. She then asked me if any of the issues were beyond my ability to resolve. I assured her that I was very capable of taking care of them. At that point, she gave me some advice I have practiced ever since. She told me that it was my job to resolve any issues that arose and that I was expected to do so. I should, without hesitation, escalate if there were any I needed help with. However, telling everyone about every problem that was being experienced would erode the confidence in the project and in me as the leader of it. What I should do was celebrate the wins and manage the misses unless I needed help. Just by doing this, my confidence increased dramatically, as I’m sure the confidence others had in me did as well.
10 Celebrate wins
Make the effort to recognize and celebrate YOUR wins. I’m not necessarily referring to your team’s wins, although I’m not excluding them. It’s important to frequently reflect on your personal wins and determine what you did that led to a successful outcome. These are the things you want to repeat or perhaps double down on the next time. Also, reflecting on the wins may highlight that you have done some good things you may otherwise have overlooked, building your leadership confidence.
Don’t start working on all 10 of these confidence boosters simultaneously. Review them and prioritize based on where you have the biggest opportunities. Tackle one or two at a time. Review your progress at least weekly for what’s working or not working, adjust your actions accordingly, and recognize your progress. As you become proficient in one of the boosters, take on another. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your confidence increases. Don’t forget to enjoy and have fun along the way!
Leave a comment on what ways you use or have used to develop your leadership confidence!
* 25 Surprising Leadership Statistics (2022)
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