How to be more confident as a leader

Confidence plays a critical role in many aspects of our life, especially in our ability and willingness to exercise leadership. Applying real leadership takes even more confidence because it requires us to be prepared to show vulnerability and emotion, to bring our whole self to our leadership and to be prepared to say it as it is.

In the book, The Confidence Code, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman state that three aspects affect confidence: our genetics, our environment and our choices.

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The reality with genetics is that some people are born with more confidence than others — and we can’t do anything about that. Many use this as an excuse and they shouldn’t. What they fail to recognise is that there are two other aspects of confidence; our environment and our choices.


Our environment plays a part in how confident we are. If you are in an environment that is encouraging and supportive, this will have a positive impact on your confidence. Conversely, an obstructive or unsupportive environment, where people are always questioning you or your capabilities, will have a negative impact on your confidence. This environment could be at work and relate to the culture, your direct leader or your peers or in your personal live with your partner, family and friends.


The final aspect of confidence involves the choices we make, a factor that is under our complete control. Everyday we are presented with choices, both large and small that will either strengthen or weaken our confidence. Positive choices lead to the feeling of empowerment and personal growth whereas poor choices often lead to damaging self-criticism or feelings of failure. These daily choices can have long-term impacts on our confidence, resulting in either a positive upward spiral or negative downward spiral.

The Problem with Perfectionism

Kay and Shipman offer a definition of confidence as ‘being prepared to fail’. Anyone who suffers from perfectionism is less likely to have a go at something because the risk of failure (or not getting it perfect) is too great. Too often people say they lack confidence because they often get nervous or anxious. Confidence is not about the absence of nerves, anxiety or self-doubt; it’s about feeling those nerves and experiencing that doubt yet being prepared to do it regardless.

Fear of failure can stop us from taking risks and reaching our full potential. Besides being a huge fan of J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series, I also love her attitude to life. Rowling believes that, ‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all—in which case, you fail by default’.

What you can do about it

As a result of the three aspects of confidence mentioned above, there are three areas of focus you can look at to increase your confidence:

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  • Stop using genetics as an excuse for your lack of confidence. Blaming your parents for everything runs a bit thin after a while. This tactic has an expiry date, so grow up and step up.
  • Start making choices about who you surround yourself with, and make more time for people who have your back and believe in you—both in a personal and professional sense. This does not mean recruiting in your own mould or surrounding yourself with people who only say yes. It is about surrounding yourself with people who believe in you and give you constructive feedback that comes from a place of respect and support.
  • Make choices that strengthen your confidence by feeling the nerves and doubts about a certain option, and doing it anyway. When it comes to being more authentic in your leadership role, this could encompass a range of things. Some will be relatively safe while others may carry a bit more risk.

Working on your confidence to allow you to be more real with your leadership will be worth it. You have a generation of employees screaming out for leaders to be more genuine. The leaders who are prepared to step into real leadership will be the leaders of the future that are sought after and rewarded.

photo credit: Flying

Gabrielle DolanGabrielle Dolan works across Corporate Australian helping leaders humanise the way the lead by being more ‘real’. Her latest book Ignite: Real leadership, real talk, real results, is available online at all major retailers. To find out more head to