Leading with Confidence

A lot about leadership is confidence. Yet confidence does not always come naturally, but has to be worked on. In fact, a leader that is always confident is scary to me. Let me give you my thoughts on confidence in leadership.


Having Confidence in Yourself

In leadership, confidence is important. You need confidence in yourself that you are doing the right thing. However, this is no easy thing to do. It would be easy if the decisions you have to make were clear and obvious. Most people can answer the question “Shall I hit my thumb intentionally with a hammer?” with a confident “No!

However, the more uncertainty you face, the lower your confidence will be. Most leadership functions involve some uncertainty. In fact, the higher up you are in hierarchy, the more uncertainty you have in your decision making. “Shall I build the new plant in location A or B?” or “Which product should I invest my resources in?” have no clear answers.

As a result, a decision you make can end up being wrong. As a leader, this risk usually cannot be avoided. If your leadership position would not have this uncertainty and the difficulty in making decisions, you could be replaced with someone with less education, experience, and – most importantly – less salary 8-O.

If you feel that you sometimes lack confidence in your decisions, don’t worry; that is common. Most managers regularly face self-doubt when making decisions. That is a completely normal behavior. You are not the only one who worries!

You need to trust your abilities and experience. Hopefully, you are in a position where you know the product and the business and have related experience. At least one person believed enough in you to put you in this position in the first place. This person probably also had some uncertainties in making this decision, but (hopefully) he keeps these uncertainties to himself to make your life not more difficult than it already is.

Fake It Till You Make It

When facing self-doubt, some people go down the wrong path and feed this doubt. They let these worries nag at their confidence, reducing the confidence until it is gone. Don’t make that mistake. Realize that your decision has uncertainties, and while you can always try to get more information, at one point you have to make a decision despite the uncertainty!

Knowing that, instead of fueling your doubts, you have to reduce them. To a certain degree, confidence can be faked. You have to fake it till you make it. Pretending to be confident will lift your spirits and your confidence.

Spread Confidence

Appearing confident is also necessary for a leader. The people you manage have the same insecurities as you, sometimes even more. If their leader is doubting himself all the time, then their own doubts will increase. Hence it is necessary to (mostly) maintain an appearance of confidence toward your people, even if you have some doubts. Certainly do not exaggerate the doubts you have toward your people. After all, that is what your boss (presumably) does too.

At the same time, you must not overdo it. I have had leaders myself that tried to sell me a total shit-show as the best thing since sliced bread. This, in turn, damaged my view of the leadership. Hence, overall you have to find some middle ground between overconfidence and constant worries when facing your people!

The Risk of Overconfidence

Maybe you have come across a leader who was always fully confident in his own abilities and decisions. That is scary! People that are always confident often have no clue what they are talking about. This effect even has its own name, the Dunning-Kruger effect, named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger and their study in 1999.

The less someone knows about a topic, the less he knows about the myriad of things that can go wrong, and hence the more he believes in his own abilities. Similarly, a very skilled person can see all the potential troubles, and therefore underestimate his ability to perform. Low-ability people do not realize their incompetence, whereas high-ability people think that others surely must know this too, and hence can do it too.

This Dunning-Kruger effect has been tested widely on things like the skill in reading, driving, medicine, tennis, chess, and more. Interestingly, while the effect is strong in North America, it is nonexistent or even reverse in Japan, where everybody is expected to fail unless they don’t.

Psychopaths in Leadership

Psychopathy is a personality disorder that shows lack of empathy, impulsivity and poor risk assessment, and boldness with high self-confidence. Hence, a psychopath rarely doubts his own decisions.

Psychopaths are much more common in management than in the normal population. About 1% of the population are psychopaths, but between 3% and 10% of managers had clinically significant psychopathy. (Another frequently cited study with 21% psychopaths in leadership was retracted after publication, see below for source). While 10% does not mean that every manager is a psychopath as some sensationalist news put it, it is a significant number.

Psychopaths may be attracted to management as they seek power and influence, but their ability to appear confident often helps them to get promoted to higher positions, where they then wreak havoc on the performance of the company. Please do not turn into a psychopath. However, appearing confident will not only help with your leadership but also with your career.

Having Confidence in Others

Three ConsultantsHaving confidence yourself is difficult enough (unless you are a psychopath). It is even more difficult if the people around you constantly question your decisions and increase insecurity and doubt. Hence, you yourself can do your part by trusting your people. In many cases, your people know their area of work better than you do, and hence can make better decisions.

Will it always be the right decision? Surely not, as they also have to work with their uncertainty. But you can help them by trusting them, in particular the experienced employees with a proven track record. If it is a newbie with no experience, feel free to question and probe his decisions, but do not make life tougher than it already is for people who know what they do.

Hence, know that making decisions involves uncertainty, and that you have to consider this when making a decision. But do not mull over your own insecurities; instead, try to appear confident to others and try to support others in their confidence. Now, go out, lead with confidence, and organize your industry!

Source of the RETRACTED article

Nathan Brooks & Katarina Fritzon: RETRACTED ARTICLE: Psychopathic personality characteristics amongst high functioning populations, Crime Psychology Review Vol. 2 No. 11 Pages 22-44, 2016.


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