A while back, I posted an article about effective leadership qualities and the emotions and behaviors exhibited by the people we choose to follow. In that post, I made a casual reference to over-compensating for a lack of confidence. That casual reference has become a hot topic, one that I would like to address separately here.
In the original post, I said we’d prefer to follow people who lead by influencing and inspiring instead of those who try to lead by commanding and controlling. I said that some people confuse power with leadership, trying to dominate and focusing on their own agenda. I followed that with a statement that effectively leading others requires confidence – in yourself and in others.
What Effective Leadership Qualities Do Others Mistake for Confidence?
That begs two questions: What is confidence? and What do others perceive as an indication of confidence?
Mastery of skills is the answer that we usually come to first for both questions. Sometimes, we choose command and control to keep a task to ourselves because we don’t want to be exposed for not doing it well, not doing it quickly, or not doing it the way others might. It’s true that mastering a skill can make you more confident in performing the tasks related to that skill. At the same time, the higher your own level of expertise is, the less likely you are to confidently entrust those tasks to someone else. You will fall back into a command and control mode.
Handling stress well helps others to perceive us as confident and inspires them to put their confidence in us. When we handle stress well, we appear to be more optimistic and to have a balanced lifestyle that includes time for all personal pursuits. If we mask stress, however, we can lapse unexpectedly into behaviors that appear to be command and control in nature. We may explode when the unrelieved pressure builds up and boils over.
Why Confidence is Chief Among Effective Leadership Qualities
Confidence also shows up in the way you present your opinions and viewpoints. If you are certain of your positions, you will confidently advocate for them. If you are not confident, you will quickly yield or make concessions. Alternately, you may over-react to challenges and become aggressive in defending your position by attacking the position of others. This over-reaction no longer looks confident and strong. It no longer inspires others to follow where you are leading.
Finally, confidence comes across when we exhibit humility. People who are confident can admit and learn from their mistakes. They do not need constant attention or praise. They can accept compliments graciously and share credit for work that has been done collaboratively. People who are not confident may mask that lack of confidence by tooting their own horn, arrogantly dismissing the input of others, defending or denying their mistakes, or over-stating their own contributions.
Leaders who are confident not only share the credit for their work, they invite others to participate in that work, learning as they go. They are not self-absorbed but are other-oriented. They are supportive and collaborative, sharing information freely and helping others as often as possible. They also accept support and help because they are not threatened by it.
How to Add Confidence to Your List of Effective Leadership Qualities
So how do you get the self-confidence that would enable you to behave differently? Albert Bandura’s research offers a great starting point. He correlates the belief in one’s own ability to how well a person actually performs a task. When you have “self-efficacy,” you will think, feel, and behave in ways that contribute to your own success. You will handle obstacles with finesse and perseverance, recovering more quickly from setbacks. You will have more motivation and determination when you believe in your abilities. It all starts with believing in yourself – note that this doesn’t mean believing in your abilities… It means believing that you can and will find ways to learn and do what is needed.
This same approach is useful for having confidence in others, too. You may not believe they have the skill set necessary, right now, to do the task you may need to delegate to them. What you need, however, is a belief that they can and will learn and grow. When you believe that about the people around you, you will think, feel and behave in a way that enables you to share control with them. You will be leading them differently because of your belief in them.
Since it starts with believing in yourself and the people you rely on, work on building the skills related to learning, taking risks, being resilient, and problem solving. When you and they are equipped with these skills, you can believe the work will get done. And you won’t feel a need to be commanding and controlling, masking a lack of confidence in yourself or others. When you believe in others, they will want to rise to your expectations. They will be inspired by you because you believe. These behaviors cause others to mistrust a leader and compromise your ability to influence others in the future.
Next Steps to Improve Your Effective Leadership Qualities and Confidence
Deb Calvert is a certified Executive Coach, Keynote Speaker, Certified Master with The Leadership Challenge®and Trainer. She is the founder of People First Productivity Solutions, building organizational strength by putting people first since 2006.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published September 2016 and has been recently updated.