And then, I made the decision to banish that part of myself….
I has always thought of self-confidence is something “soft and fuzzy”. Yes, I knew that if you didn’t have it, you may not get noticed as much, but it wasn’t until I had two daughters that I realized two very important things about that word “confidence”:
- It’s not “soft and fuzzy” at all—in fact, it’s very concrete, and in fact, the foundation for everything
- There are a list of unintended consequences— a sort of “butterfly effect” — of not having and projecting confidence.
I now understand how important it is to have and project self-confidence is in both the roles of employee and parent.
The “Fuzzy Myth” about Self-Confidence
For years I’ve said to myself (and anyone else that would listen) that I thought, if you dug deep into root causes of many of the world’s issues, you would find low self-confidence and esteem at the bottom of it.
When I would personally reflect, I could see how low self-confidence led to a trail of questionable decisions—a lifetime of not standing up for myself, letting people take advantage of me, and not taking risks because I didn’t think I was “capable”.
I worked on improving my self-confidence, but I still had a lot to learn. It’s one thing “not to beat yourself up” and to fight “low self-esteem”, but it’s quite another to have the confidence in yourself to take risks, to ask for what you deserve, to self-promote, and to project confidence in who you are and what talents you possess.
In fact, the latter is quite difficult for many women. The Atlantic had a great article on this “confidence gap” that is well worth the read. I admit that for me, the confidence gap also seemed contradictory to my personal values and even faith—I thought “arrogance” was a flaw, and humility was an admirable value. So I held back. I muted myself. I downplayed my strengths. I tried to stay hidden in the shadows.
My Ah-Ha Moment
Business school was where it hit me. Specifically, Sept 2012, when I was sitting in a Berkeley classroom for Professor Frank Schultz’s Executive Leadership class. We were doing “experimental learning”—working on small teams, in what we assumed was an activity where one team would “win”. At some point, I realized that in order for any of the teams to succeed, we actually had to work together. I started to lead the charge—suggesting ways we could help each other out. It started to work—we all started to get through the exercise much quickly and with collaboration. And then I pulled back and stopped leading–questioning whether it was right for me to lead this class of amazing, talented people with PhDs and experience vastly more than mine. The groups still got through the exercise, but not as quickly as we could have. Professor Schultz pointed it out in the activity debrief—specifically noting that I had started to lead the charge and then pulled back. I reflected on that as he continued the class, and then wrote on a piece of paper “Have the confidence to lead”, dated it, and taped it to a notebook that I still use to this day.
And then I reflected more—what contributions am I not bringing because I didn’t have the confidence to lead? My internal “opinion” of confidence started to shift. It isn’t a soft and “fuzzy” thing after all. It is a foundation of who we are and how we experience the world.
How You Build and Promote Your Self-Confidence
After realizing that I was capable of so much more, I set-out on a mission to improve and project my self-confidence. Interestingly, as I started to make changes, I realized I was more successful both at work and at home. Here are some tips I developed while on this self-confidence journey:
- Realize that there are unintended consequences of not having and projecting self-confidence. This is a really important step, as it helps inspire and motivate you to fix the problem. While everyone’s unintended consequences are unique, I suspect that there are patterns. As a parent, you are modeling everything for your kids. Children are more observant and absorbent then we give them credit for being. The level of confidence you project is likely to influence the level of confidence your kids will project. You think your son/daughter are great—don’t you want them to believe that and project that too? At work, there are numerous articles about how confidence is an essential characteristic of successful leaders. Here are a few: Businessweek, Inc.com, HBR Blog. The consequence of not projecting confidence in work includes not only missed opportunities for you, but missed opportunities for your team. As a leader, your personal brand and reputation carries over and impacts your team’s brand and reputation. The more confidence you project, the more your team will be respected. Additionally, your team will learn from your modeling of self-confidence, and hopefully strive to improve theirs as well.
- Create a “Personal Wins” list. This tip was given to me by a mentor when I worked at Accenture, and has been one of the tips I’ve used and repeated the most in my life. The original context for this tip was to help me advocate for myself during the annual review process, however I’ve learned that it has also helped me build up my confidence. I have a running list of “personal wins”—a simple electronic list—and whenever I achieve an accomplishment, I add it to that list. It not only helps me during my review, but it helps with resume updating, self-reflection, my development plan, and more. Each win is supported with data wherever possible. Each time I open that list, I get a little confidence boost by seeing the cumulative impact of my efforts over time.
- Tell your story with facts whenever possible. Part of the uncomfortableness with “projecting confidence” is that it feels like bragging. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that bragging isn’t an admirable quality (another good read: Forbes Article ). But it isn’t bragging if you’re repeating facts. Take a productivity accomplishment I have on my resume. I could have written “I did these great things and now my team is doing so much more”. That would have been a brag. But that isn’t actually what happened (it was a collective effort) and there are no facts to support it. When instead I write “Streamlined budget and operations to improve teammate productivity by 75% and realize a budget savings of 31%”, it feels more comfortable, as it’s supported by facts.
- Let others do the bragging for you. Your network can be your strongest asset (future blog posts to come on this topic). Not only can your network contacts inspire, challenge, and support you, but they can be a great source of endorsements. Make sure that you keep your contacts updated on your accomplishments, and listen to them when they recognize you for something. Most jobs are found through networking, and letting someone else put in a good word for you can be an advantage.
- Make sure you exercise “deliberate practice.” I learned of this concept in the same class where I had my ah-ha moment. It is based on the idea that if we are intentional in practicing a skill that we want to improve on, we can realize change (see HBR article).That brings me back to the beginning of this blog post–Self-confidence isn’t a “fuzzy” concept, but rather a skill.
Improving and projecting self-confidence is essential to both our roles of parents and employees. I’m confident you can improve yours.