Let’s talk confidence.

Confidence is an elusive topic. Confidence is hard to measure, but it can lead to successes. Confidence is hard to define, but the lack of it can lead to failures. Too much confidence can be repulsive to some; not enough confidence can be puzzling to others. But we’re going to tackle it through five steps to increasing confidence.

The issue:

While at an event happy hour filled with women business owners, I wanted to capitalize on the fact that I was surrounded by hundreds of women who’d conquered the glass ceiling. It appeared a reasonable opportunity to interview a handful of women for my live talk show about their views on leadership. I thought it would be a prime opportunity to get footage for my ‘Prescription to Lead’ segment, which is made of street interviews where I ask a question about leadership and I film someone’s answer to it.

With my camera equipment conspicuously concealed, I approached my first group of unsuspecting female entrepreneurs and joined in their conversation. They made room for me in their group of three and we continued to talk about the weather and current events. While I’m not really into small talk, I cut to the chase and told them about my show.

I told them I needed women to talk about leadership in the segment, explaining that they’d just need to answer one simple question about leadership on camera. The answer didn’t need to be long, just whatever they felt like saying about leading people. I even gave them sample questions like, “what qualities do you think make a great leader” and “what do you think your strongest leadership trait is.” After telling them I had my small, inconspicuous filming equipment in tow, I then asked them, “Would you be willing to answer a question about leadership on camera for the show”?

Dead silence. I was met with complete and utter dead silence.

Although I figured there’d be some questions about the project, I was not prepared to have such adamant opposition to being filmed.  the reasons for not being ‘enough’ began.  “Oh, no… I couldn’t”, “I’m not dressed for that”, “I have only just started my company”, “my hair doesn’t look good” and my favorite, “what if I say something stupid”. I tried to calm their fears and let them know there was nothing to worry about, no answers were wrong, and they looked just fine. But my attempts remained unsuccessful. Honoring their resistance, I walked away.

I chalked the experience up to my approach possibly being a little rough so then decided I’d try a different strategy.

I walked up to another unsuspecting group of about 5 women, this time much more thoughtful in my approach. Although the group disbanded for various reasons quickly after we all started talking, I found myself standing with one woman who worked as a career coach.

Our conversation found its way to the details of my talk show and the scenario I’d just experienced. Not surprised at all at what had just happened, she explained how she saw women, no matter how successful, fighting the confidence battle daily in her practice.

While I knew that lack of self-confidence has been one of the main contributors perpetuating the workplace gender disparity, I hadn’t expected to see it first-hand in a room full of successful women. But there was no denying the facts: lack of self-confidence is an equal opportunity inhibitor.

Therefore, here are five steps to improving confidence.

Step 1: Position yourself for success

I was talking to a man recently who told me the story of how his wife had been passed over for the COO role at her organization. She was upset, understandably because she had been with the company for more than 20 years, but more upset because they’d hired a male outside the company who was coming from a completely different industry. She approached her boss for feedback to find out why she’d been overlooked and the feedback she was given was invaluable.

She hadn’t positioned herself for success. Instead she kept her head down and worked extremely hard in her job, but didn’t venture outside of her comfort zone to learn new skills.

Are you positioning yourself now to be in your current role or are you are you positioned to be in the role you want to achieve? By positioned, I mean:

  • Do you dress for the role you want to attain?
  • Do you participate in continuing education to invest in yourself to achieve further success?
  • Do you raise your hand to volunteer for projects outside of your comfort zone so you can learn new skills?
  • Do you raise your hand to take on new challenges at every opportunity you can?

Think ahead to the future you want to create for yourself and take the steps necessary to make that a reality. Don’t believe the falsity that if you master your role then you’ll be considered for the next step up the ladder. If you want to be seen a certain way, then show up in alignment with that. Position yourself to look, feel, and be confidently positioned for the next role.

Step 2: Create a confidence diary

What gets measured gets done, and confidence is no different. Creating a confidence diary is a way to track the times you feel most and least confident, as well as documenting times when you feel intimidated or out of your league. Along with your personal experiences, also track comments and feedback from your peers. At a minimum, your diary should include:

  1. The encounter you had—what happened?
  2. How did you reacted to the encounter—what did you say/do?
  3. Outcome you experienced—how did you feel?

Review what you have documented for trends in your behaviors and reactions. If you’re in certain situations repeatedly (i.e., meetings, presentations, etc.) and you haven’t been showing up confidently in those times, identify small steps you can take to change your behavior in the future. Then hold yourself accountable to act on those small steps.

Step 3: Create a brag book

When you receive cards, emails, or notes of gratitude about your accomplishments, save those in a notebook, or brag book, and carry that book around. Your brag book is a reflection of how you have gone above and beyond to help others, and on hard days it will remind you of how you’re making a difference in someone else’s life.

During periods of feeling ‘less than’ reflect back on your brag book as social proof of just how incredible you are. Your brag book is a reminder of why you do what you do and you’ll find confidence to keep going when times get hard. You can’t argue or minimize your worth when you have written confirmation straight from others.

Step 4: Step out of your comfort zone

If you want to master your confidence, you have to do something differently. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If you don’t step out of your comfort zone then you’ll never gain confidence. It’s not a chicken and egg scenario… steps forward equal steps toward confidence.

What are your insecurities? What scares you? What stops you dead in your tracks and makes you break out into a cold sweat?

Do them. Make a pact with yourself or someone close to you that next time the situation presents itself, you’ll react in a way that builds your confidence.

I was speaking at an event recently and afterward was talking to a table full of people about this very topic. One woman in particular was telling me about how before my talk she’d convinced herself of all the reasons not to do something. But during the speech, she realized they were just excuses and the real reason she was being held back was actually herself.

I asked her, “How many people at the end of life say, ‘Damn! That was a great ride’? Instead, too many people at the end of life have their ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ lists and are full of regrets.

Turn your ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ list into a ‘DO, DONE, DID IT!’ list.

Step 5: Question your inner critic

Now that you have shown up powerfully by positioning yourself for success, created a confidence diary and brag book, and started on your do, done, did it! list, you have enough ammunition to silence your inner critic. And if that’s not enough, identify evidence to prove your inner critic wrong.

Your harshest comments will often come from your own head. When listening to the negativity, ask yourself for evidence that supports and negates the voice of the inner critic. Ask, “What evidence do I have that doesn’t support the negative thought that…”

Why would you give credence to the negative thoughts without asking for supporting evidence, anyway? Instead, challenge the thought by insisting data be provided so that you can prove the contrary.

When you implement these 5 steps to improving your confidence, you will start to see you’re so much worthier than you’ve given yourself credit for. Tell me your stories of the steps you’ve taken to improve your confidence.