Confidence is faith in our skills and capabilities. It is being sure of ourselves. In this article, Claire Rason explores why boosting confidence might have far-reaching consequences.
Confidence is something that coaches often explore with their clients. Many conversations start there. It is central to how motivational interviewing (a sub-set of coaching also used as a counselling approach) results in behavioural change. However, it is also a theme that runs across many coaching conversations and there are many ways coaches can tackle it. Confidence is something we have written about in different contexts (for example Client Listening and Presenting).
Can we fake confidence?
When Amy Cuddy introduced us to the power pose in her TED Talk she told us to “fake it until we become it”. This was all about confidence and using behaviours to change emotions: the idea that adopting an open or expansive pose will make people feel more powerful and in so doing become more confident. For many it works, even if just to mask insecurities that might lie within.
Imposter Syndrome is something that so many of us struggle with. It can perhaps be seen as a “wobble in confidence”. As more people own up to it, we become increasingly aware of not being alone in thinking that we “got here by luck or accident”.
Confidence and it’s impact on female leadership
Dr Susan Rose recently joined the team at Client Talk and she sheds light on the importance of confidence in another area: in the representation of women in senior leadership roles. In a study published in Philosophy of Coaching: An International Journal, she looked at the effect that low self-confidence has on gender balance in leadership.
In line with the Class of 2002 and other studies, the authors discuss the impact of gendered stereotypes with regard to leadership. Dr Rose and co-author Fiona Wilkinson found that female self-confidence is impacted by assumed masculine characteristics in leadership. This makes sense: why should women be confident in assuming characteristics that haven’t served them to get to where they are?
The study provides another argument as to why women might choose not to progress (see here regarding our findings in connection with choice): they might lack faith in their abilities to adopt the dominant style of leadership in their organisation. If self-confidence is a factor, then this aligns with the findings of another study which showed that coaching is a way to create change in gendered organisations (Coaching the ‘ideal worker’: female leaders and the gendered self in a global corporation - Gray et Al).
What can firms be doing to boost confidence?
(1) Coaching for results rather than approach.
Rather than concentrating on how individuals need to be when they step up to partner or into another role, firms can shift the focus onto what skills individuals already have that can be leveraged to achieve results. This moves the conversation from “you need to be like this” to “how can who you are be leveraged when you step up”.
Results could be “traditional” (financial) but rewarding “non-traditional” metrics/results such as team happiness, trust, or new skills learnt would be even better (not forgetting that these things lead to high-performing teams and traditional measures of success anyway!).
(2) Not just focusing on the women.
Coaching can increase confidence. It can make women agents of change within their organisations. However, coaching can go further than that and just focusing on the women, something which has been true in many professional services firms when seeking to address gender imbalance, risks shifting the blame (and the solution) onto women.
Further, this isn’t just about gender, firms need to work to embrace all types of diversity. They need to think about embracing and encouraging different leadership styles. This will have an impact on who succeeds in those firms, which in turn will impact how people perceive their role and ability to fit in: leaving less room for a crisis of confidence.
(3) Think about confidence big and small
Some people can fake it until they become it. Other people just fake it. Don’t assume that the self-belief you see in others is always there. We are talking about confidence preventing career progression, but confidence pops up all over the place. Lack of self-confidence might stop someone from embracing feedback, or from saying yes to the opportunity to present at a conference, or putting pen to paper and writing an article.
Don’t assume that people say “no” because they don’t want to: something else might be at play. We often talk about confidence in the context of business development, but it is relevant to other things too. When people say no, why is it a no? There might be a good reason, but it might be that the person doesn’t feel confident doing what is being asked of them.
You might not want to ask directly, it might not be appropriate to, but think about whether what you are asking requires a skill-set that perhaps hasn’t been taught or seen through the lens of what that person uniquely brings to the table. With business development, it is often what gets in the way of action. Skills are often not taught until the professional needs to use them: by which point their unconscious gets in the way. Building confidence for some of the smaller things can have a knock-on on some of the bigger challenges.