Does Confidence Make You A Good Leader?

Aug 28, 2023 | Leadership

Confidence is a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances. Having confidence in life is a great thing, but does having confidence make you a good leader? Below you will learn how to stop mistaking confidence for good leadership.

As reported by Wall Street Journal on August 1st, 2023, by Lindsay Kohler.

Stop Mistaking Confidence For Good Leadership

Confidence theater — which is putting on an appearance of being confident regardless of how one actually feels — can dominate some corporate cultures and generate a lot of attention. It makes sense that there would be pressure to appear confident despite the circumstances because we often conflate confidence with success. When this becomes problematic is that confidence theater allows those who are most vocal to govern — whether they are qualified to do so or not. After all, confidence is not a proxy for the validity of one’s judgment and decision-making.

“I think for employees, when they have to demonstrate confidence theater, it makes a lot of people uncomfortable because that’s not who they are. This is particularly difficult for people who may be more thoughtful and want time to think about something. They may feel very pressured to appear in command,” says Peter Atwater, author of the just-released book The Confidence Map.

Confidence at work is simply our feelings about the future — and how prepared we are for the future we imagine. It’s closely related to control, uncertainty and vulnerability. How confident we feel greatly impacts our mood at work. At our most confident, we believe we control things (even if we don’t) and experience high levels of certainty (even if we shouldn’t). The reverse of that is true in periods of low confidence which creates a lot of stress. And when we’re in a state of stress, we have one goal: to get out.

What determines how confident we feel at work?

“Employee mood in many ways is reflexive in terms of interactions with a direct manager,” says Atwater. “This is where the dynamic of whether the manager is empowering me to take control or putting me in the passenger seat and micromanaging me comes into play into how I feel.”

Sometimes, we’re okay with following the leader, especially when we are fairly confident in the outcome of their decisions. Atwater uses the analogy of being a passenger on an airplane. We’re fine sitting back and ceding control in that circumstance because we have high confidence in the ability of the pilot and plane to transport us safely. That ceding of control doesn’t always translate to the workplace.

“More often than not, we would like broad instruction and be left to do it ourselves in the way that we’re comfortable doing it,” says Atwater.

It’s a good reminder for managers to maintain focus on the result being accomplished — rather than on how it’s being accomplished.

Is becoming more confident a learnable skill?

You can learn confidence just like you can learn any other skill — but it might make you uncomfortable. It requires a willingness to grow, an ability to visualize something as better than it is now, and commitment.

Moving from low to high confidence benefits the workplace. We become much more generous, ambitious, collaborative, and cooperative. Suddenly, those long-term business goals feel attainable.

Building confidence is good — but what happens when that leads to overconfidence?

“With overconfidence, we’re imagining the future. And what we fail to appreciate is that when we’re overconfident, the future that we imagine perfectly represents our level of confidence,” says Atwater.

This creates a situation in which we imagine too bright of a future — which causes us to fail to consider that something might go wrong. Our appetite for risk increases. The better we feel, the less we focus. We take our eyes off the potential dangers that come with our choices. This can lead to catastrophic failure.

Now you find yourself in a place where a leader has taken control to turn things around — but then doesn’t allow employees to take control back. The board of directors is so thrilled that the problem has been solved that they miss the frustration and apathy of those who have had control taken away from them and have been micromanaged while the leader is busy aggressively leading. So, what’s the fix to restore the power balance?

“Often, that leader has to fail in some way,” says Atwater. “The problem with that is that it leaves the organization vulnerable. By the time it’s clear that the leader has to go, there’s no one in place to take their role because everyone has been disempowered for so long that anybody talented in terms of leadership has left already.”

Leaders need to listen more and talk less

If you want to build the collective confidence of your people, you need to invest more time in listening activities. When people feel heard, they feel they have more control — which helps build confidence. The most successful leaders understand that it’s not about projecting the appearance of confidence. Instead, they focus on empowering their people.

Additional Leadership Resources

Building A High-Performing Team: Best Practices for COOs

What COOs Are Getting Wrong About the Future of Work – and How to Make It Right

Chief Operating Officer Best Practices


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