How Confident Are You?
Awhile back, this Douglas MacArthur quote started making the rounds on Facebook and it triggered some reflection.
“A true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others. He does not set out to be a leader, but becomes one through the quality of his actions and the integrity of his intent.”
“Who am I to challenge MacArthur?” I ask myself – and yet something in this statement doesn’t jive for me.
For in my experience, confidence isn’t a precursor for leadership. I have met hundreds and hundreds of extraordinary leaders who are looking to find greater confidence. Men and women who are visionaries, who bring an enormous amount of integrity to all they do, who show up every day in life focused on making a positive impact on the human beings around them and the organizations they serve. But still they question themselves. Still they feel uncertain and afraid. And even in the face of all the unknowns, and all the discomfort, all the signs pointing toward possible failure, they dare to show up anyway and take the lead.
I don’t see confidence as a fixed state of being. It’s not an all or nothing thing. I see it as something that all humans struggle with from time-to-time.
I had lunch with a dear friend of mine not long ago who is an extraordinary woman. She’s started her own firm and has grown it successfully, having seen it through the ups-and-downs that come from the unpredictability of business. She is a leader in her community – one of the most connected, respected, and loved women around. Everyone seems to know and adore her. She is there for her friends. She is generous to a fault. She is a visionary and an inspiration. When I’m with her she makes me feel like anything is possible. My friend is an authentic and powerful leader.
And yet at lunch, she wasn’t feeling so powerful. Her confidence had taken a hit. She was feeling low. Human.
Our society loves definitions. We love to put labels on what it takes to qualify as a leader, and confidence is always at the top thing on the list. So when our leaders aren’t feeling it, they cover it up. They feel ashamed. They overcompensate. They imbibe, or bury themselves in work, or food, or exercise, or whatever they can to numb the feeling. God forbid someone finds out they’re not feeling confident.
But the feeling is normal. To not feel confident at times is human. Why in the world do we make it wrong? For in doing so, we’re just creating a whole heap of other problems.
To me, confidence is not what it takes to be a leader. As some days it’s going to be there and some days it’s not. Confidence, in my mind, is simply a bi-product. A bi-product of courage.
For confidence comes as we experience ourselves succeeding in what we’re trying to do – as we strengthen our belief in our own abilities. The challenge is, today’s world requires us to forge ahead into the face of the unknown, again, and again, and again, and we can’t rely on past successes to determine what might happen, because we’re almost always treading unknown territory. Yet we must move forward anyway. Even if our confidence hasn’t kicked in. Even if it has abandoned us in our time of need.
Now I’m not suggesting that you announce at your next company meeting that you’re not feeling confident as CEO. While you and I can discuss openly the realities of being human, the masses still like to live in a fantasy that leaders are impervious to things like feelings. Like children, we all ache for someone to assure us that everything is going to be all right. We certainly don’t want to cause pandemonium.
But you do need to get real with yourself. And you do need someone in your life who can help you move through it safely.
I sat with my friend who was struggling with her confidence at lunch for hours. She gave me the greatest gift. She gave me the chance to remind her of how amazing she is. For our power is there – in us – it doesn’t go away. We just need help finding it from time to time. Who can do that for you? You may not need it today, but you will. We all do.
Don’t feel like you have to get confident to step into your power as a leader. Confidence will come. And it will go. And it will come again. Instead, find the courage to take that first step, and the second, and the third…even when you’re not feeling it. Go make the difference that only you can make.
That’s real leadership.
©OnStage Leadership, 2015
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Kimberly Davis is the Founder/Director of OnStage Leadership, a full-day experiential leadership workshop. Click here to read what people are saying! If you’re interested in more information, or in having Kimberly come speak to your group on topics around Authentic Leadership, Influence, Presence, Engagement, Purpose in the workplace, or Presentation Skills we’d love to hear from you!