Chief Executive or entry-level apprentice: we are ALL vulnerable to bouts of self-doubt or low confidence. In a world where the latest Instagram and Snapchat posts become global news within seconds and instantly shape opinion, debate around self image often centres on younger generations who have yet to find their place in the world and don’t appreciate the risks of their online presence. However, the need to build and maintain self belief and confidence doesn’t disappear with a job promotion or rise up the ranks; what does become harder, however, is our ability to acknowledge this or perceive it in those around us. Whatever our status, it seems that a sense of confidence can ebb and flow and affects all of us at some time or another. What better time – during Mental Health Week – for leaders to reappraise their own and their team’s self esteem.

A dictionary definition of self-confidence is a belief or trust in ourselves and our abilities. Trust is a key word here and one of the most common things that can challenge or undermine our sense of self-confidence is frequently uncertain circumstances which reduce our experience of psychological safety and ultimately our sense of trust. This is hugely common in today’s volatile and fast changing world where leaders are constantly being asked to step out of their comfort zone, juggle multiple priorities, make decisions despite ambiguous information and navigate emerging issues. Without the ability to build and maintain self-confidence, all this can lead mental stress and reduced wellbeing.

From our work with leaders and organisations, we have identified three elements which interact with each other to support a more consistent approach to the development of self-confidence. These are:

Belief and acceptance of ourselves, our strengths and capabilities

Building strong self-awareness here is key. Understanding what drives us, energises us and the skills we excel in means we can ensure we play to our strengths, which in turn energises us, creates a greater sense of well-being and supports us to be confident and positive about ourselves. Daily practices such as noting our achievements, practicing mindfulness to quieten our internal critic or developing self-compassion are all valuable activities that support this.

Consciously projecting the perception of confidence

There are certain skills and behaviours that we generally perceive represent someone who is acting confidently. This means that even though we might not be feeling particularly confident then we can practice and consciously use these skills and behaviours to give us an air of confidence. And what is great about this is that in repeatedly using these skills and behaviours we then start to feel more confident.

“If you dream it you can do it” might be an old Walt Disney quote but is very applicable here and is backed up by the neuroscientific research done by Amy Cuddy and her partners from Harvard. By starting to tell ourselves the story we want to hear, visioning it, imagining it and then acting on it, can enable us to create it. Cuddy says “Fake it not until you make it, but until you become it”.

An organisation’s culture and its impact on self-confidence

Research repeatedly highlights the impact of a leader’s behaviour on creating a climate and culture that supports people to be their best and the atmosphere a leader creates can support or limit levels of self-confidence. One way to create a confidence building culture is through making it normal giving people what we call “positive strokes”. “Strokes” is a psychological term for recognising and acknowledging people either verbally or non-verbally. A stroke can be positive or negative, conditional or unconditional and it’s helpful in creating a positive culture that leaders practice giving unconditional positive strokes. This could be as simple as smiling at someone when they come into the office, thanking them for doing a great job, to more sophisticated recognitions schemes. The truth is, positive strokes are easy and cheap to give and ultimately create a massive positive difference to an organisation’s climate and the confidence inspired in its people.

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