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What is stopping business owners and leaders from being truly confident?

August 14, 2015

In 2014 Gallup carried out a study of 2,500 entrepreneurs and identified the top ten behaviours that they consistently observed in highly successful entrepreneurs – second on the list was confidence.

Self-confidence is a vital ingredient for great leadership and having confidence is essential for any business leader to achieve their full potential. As Francisco Dao, author and founder of 50Kings says;

“Self-confidence is the fundamental basis from which leadership grows. Trying to teach leadership without first building confidence is like building a house on a foundation of sand. It may have a nice coat of paint, but it is ultimately shaky at best.”

But what is confidence? Having confidence or lack of confidence means something different to each individual, and as a result people behave differently.

Leaders frequently put on an act

Sometimes to cover for their lack of confidence some people behave in an arrogant manner even though deep down they might be very shy and lack assertiveness.

Other leaders don’t behave in a confident way at work because they don’t want to appear arrogant. They are not comfortable in their own shoes as a leader and their behaviour undermines their capability and performance.

A client of mine recently told me that although he is a confident person outside of work, in the office he finds himself adopting a jokey persona because he doesn’t want to appear arrogant. This persona he has created reduces his gravitas and authority.

Confidence is very subjective, it depends on your experience, capability and most importantly how you perceive yourself.

People like my client are often very self-critical and compare themselves to others in an unrealistic manner. They may compare themselves with people who are more experienced, or very successful in that particular area of their lives forgetting that the other person may have made sacrifices in other areas in order to achieve this. Comparing oneself with others does not usually help build self-confidence.

It is important for these people to learn the difference between vulnerability and weakness.

Held back by a fear of appearing weak

Often leaders tell themselves they can’t show vulnerability because they’ll look weak and as a result they create a persona they think is better.

They wear the mask of a strong leader who knows it all, and who doesn’t need to listen to others because he or she is clear on what needs to be done. They think they are always right, and they don’t like to be questioned as their frail ego may suffer if challenged or if they realise they’ve made a mistake.

These people may see themselves as strong, but most people see them as arrogant. They create a culture where people are not respected or valued and who just do as they are told to avoid rocking the boat.

Such leaders are not self-confident, and very often their inner dialogue is negative and self-critical. They believe they are not good enough, but must hide it. Commonly they can behave aggressively when challenged, because the fear of being found out can be terrifying, and their choice between fight or flight, is always fight.

How to develop your self-confidence

To develop self-confidence people must learn to accept themselves and others with “warts and all” and recognise we all have strengths and weaknesses.

Leaders who are truly self-confident have a different way of thinking and celebrate their own achievements in a humble manner. They accept their strengths and weaknesses in a constructive and balanced manner and look at their lack of experience or capability as something not developed yet.

They also listen to what others have to say and are not afraid to surround themselves with people who will challenge them and support them.

With an inner confidence being such an important attribute for successful business leaders, here are five ways for you to build your self-confidence:

1. Develop greater self-awareness

By developing self-awareness leaders can learn what their strengths and weaknesses are in a balanced way. Accepting and celebrating strengths, and building on them enables leaders to achieve their fullest potential.

Acknowledging weaknesses or areas of development in a constructive manner, seeing them as challenges rather than obstacles, is essential for leadership development. Hiring an executive coach may help to do this within a safe, but challenging environment.

2. Manage inner dialogue

Often people are overly critical of themselves with the intention of improving and motivating themselves to be better. Unfortunately this sometimes erodes confidence. It is important that when people experience negative self-talk, they recognise it as such, stop it and become more constructive.

For example, a person may make a mistake, and tell themselves that they are, “a careless stupid idiot”. That negative self-talk won’t help. Instead, they must own the mistake, and say to themselves, “I was careless in this situation and in future I will pay more attention and learn from this”. In essence, people should be kinder to themselves.

3. Don’t be afraid to fail

Many entrepreneurs have failed during their working lives and gone on to achieve great things. Consider Richard Branson who has started almost a hundred companies in his career many of which failed, however people only remember his successful companies.

Fear of failure often stops people from doing things. One way people can tackle this head on is by choosing to do one thing each month that they fear, such as making a presentation to a group of people, or attending a networking event alone.

4. Ask for feedback

Requesting feedback shows a huge amount of courage but it can really help people see their blind spots. When receiving feedback, it’s important to be open and not defensive about it.

5. Find a mentor

A mentor can often provide leaders with guidance, unbiased support and challenge. The key is to find someone who is balanced and provides constructive feedback.

A leader may wish to choose a mentor who knows them sufficiently to identify their key strengths, this will then enable the leader to apply those key strengths in their day to day work. You can find out more on how mentors can help you in;

About the author

This guide has been written for ByteStart by Marielena Sabatier, Founder and CEO of Inspiring Potential, a company that specialises in developing leaders.

More help on ByteStart

You will find more help on getting the best out of yourself in these other ByteStart guides;

And for tips on how to get the best out of your staff;