Leadership Tools: Confidence

Posted Monday, March 4, 2013

Allen Slade

Effective leadership requires adaptability. Leaders should fill their leadership toolbox and then pick the right tool for the situation. In other words, match your behavior to the task at hand.

Select a Tool

Last week, a coaching client preparing for a one-on-one meeting asked “How should I act?” Because principles of leadership are outdated, I didn’t give a one-size fits all answer. Instead, I suggested two ways to match his behavior to the situation: Match your confidence to your competence (today’s topic). Your demeanor should match the other person’s demeanor (in the next post).

As a leader, your confidence is a tool. You should be able to influence others based on your experience, your expertise or your position of authority. But like any tool, you can misuse your confidence.

Overconfidence is a common leadership failing. If you choose to act confident, make sure you have the competence to back it up. If all you own is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. If your leadership “style” is always high confidence, you will hammer decisions and people. Don’t be that leader.

Lack of confidence is another leadership failing. If you act like you do not know, you will undermine your leadership. If you don’t act like a confident leader, no one will want to follow you.

Even moderate confidence has drawbacks. “Powerful but approachable” or “humble yet decisive” may be desirable blends, but there are times when very high confidence (or very high humility) would be better than a compromise.

Sticking with one level of confidence – high, low or in between – would be leading on cruise control. Instead, match your confidence to your competence.

Suppose you face a high stakes technical decision. How can you match your confidence to your competence?

If you are a novice in the technology, listen and learn. Ironically, you can build credibility by complying with others. Save your confidence for situations where you know what you are talking about.

If you know about as much as the others in the room, engage in a good give and take. Bring your competence to bear, but don’t be overbearing. Admit the limits of your expertise and experience. Value the competence of others.

If you are highly competent to deal with this issue, you can show analytical strength and make hard-hitting recommendations. But even as the most competent person in the room, treat your confidence as a tool rather than a trait. At times, put confidence back in the toolbox to pull out other tools like listening or consensus building. 

Bottom line: Treat confidence like a tool rather than a trait. Match your confidence to the situation to maxmize your credibility and influence.

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