Confidence Is Key



Often I am asked, “Have you heard of Imposter’s Syndrome?” Yes, I have. I have not only heard of it, I have coached professionals through it. And while it was traditionally known to affect mainly high-achieving females, do not be fooled. Men struggle with it as well. Females, however, tend to be more impacted as a gender if their careers are in male-dominated industries (e.g. high tech).

According to WebMD, this form of self-doubt and anxiety is defined as ‘someone who feels they aren’t as capable as others think and fears they’ll be exposed as a fraud.’ Juxtaposed to this, the Dunning-Kruger effect , a confidence-related study, suggests that people believe they are more competent than they are. What does this mean for us?

Confidence is not a stellar indicator of competence.

What I’m observing now – and what seems to be making its way into the data  – is that in general, women feel just as confident as men. The difference, from my anecdotal experiences, is that females tend to speak up and take action less confidently.

My observations as a coach and consultant is that women tend to be confident about their acumen and their opinions. Where they often fall short is in their assertion of their thoughts and expertise – in the workplace.

Granted, this is a sweeping generalization. There are multiple, equally important, factors (e.g. trauma memory and personality type) that make each person assert themselves the way they do. Gender and self-confidence are only two.

To add to the mix, Pandemic-related research showed that virtual work environments are perpetuating the chasm between male and female communication. According to this, women report being talked over and interrupted even more than in the physical office environment, resulting in a sense that they will be overlooked for promotions.

Could it be deduced that in general, men are over confident in their communication and women are under-confident? Hhhhmmm….

This isn’t at all a hypothesis to start a gender war. On the contrary, it is a call to refrain from making assumptions related to confident verbal and non-verbal communication. What is crucial is that you, as a leader, create a bias-free environment where all input is not only welcomed, it is considered invaluable.

You can spend a lot of energy trying to figure out if you or others feel like an imposter or if someone feels bullied or victimized or if someone is as smart as their pace of play suggests.

Instead, for now, begin to observe how confidence is playing a role on your team. Are some individuals over confident? Are others under confident? And most importantly, are you making decisions based on your perception of their confidence instead of based on strong, solid information?

There are many ways that we can become inadvertently led down the wrong path because we are reacting to confident cues of a small few instead of successfully extracting good data from equally important sources on the team.

Rewarding fast-response behaviors isn’t necessarily your smartest move, as an example.

Sure, deadlines are a critical part of keeping a machine well-oiled. We love those who honor deadlines. Getting done early . . . well, where’s the champagne?! And yes, technology is conditioning us to want instant answers to all of our questions. But these tendencies combined don’t equal the real solutions you may be seeking.

This doesn’t at all suggest that we should let the caboose lead the train. What it does mean is that it’s important to set up an environment that welcomes, encourages and rewards vocalized expertise. We want both genders – all team members – to assert their expertise. Employees exist not to simply “get stuff done”, but to also share what they are learning so that you can make the best decisions as you continue to lead the way.

Multiple perspectives matter. Good decision making relies on it.

Confidence is key because it tends to get our attention. Because of this, it can prevent you from learning important perspectives that may get missed in the fast pace. The best decisions you can make are those that are byproducts of your ability to listen to what your team members have to say about the impact of what they are learning. The people on the ground have the intel. You in the tower need that intel to keep the vision alive and the strategy moving in the right direction toward it.

To do this well – to have the patience to slow down and listen – it’s important that you keep your emotional and physical health in tact. You may be overworking yourself or overwhelmed by all the demands and need a much-needed break to show yourself and others more grace. Or you may need to loosen up your stranglehold on perfectionism.

Whatever it is you need to do to optimize your well-being, do it. You will be a more capable and caring leader when you do – and more energized. And in case you’re wondering if you are an imposter, have no fear. You are definitely not. A true imposter would never take the time to read my articles!

Take a deep breath. Then genuinely seek input from each person on your team and find ways to build their confidence – and their competence – as you lead the way forward.

And yes, you got this.