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Three practices that can help you show up more confident.

Three practices that can help you show up more confident.

We never forget stories that really teach us something important. One of my first lessons in leadership happened when I was an undergraduate and home for the summer visiting my mom. She was an executive director and I had dropped by her office for some reason. One of her program directors, Karen, popped her head in the door to ask a question about a crisis situation in the field. My mom responded about what she should do very firmly and confidently. Then after the door closed, she half whispered to herself,  “Oh gawd, I hope I was right” and started shuffling through some papers to try to check herself to be sure. I remember wondering why she had acted confidently when she really didn’t know for sure. I  asked her to explain. I will never forget her answer. She explained, “Honey, when you are a leader you can’t afford to be uncertain because your hesitation can make matters much worse. Your team needs to feel confident that you know what you’re doing or they will start doubting your direction”. She explained further that if you want others to take action, they need to know you’re in charge and stand behind your decisions as accountable,  even if things go awry. This conversation made a lasting impression on me and helped me develop an instinct for situations where certainty and confidence would be important for my team. It also gave me the foundation for knowing that in some situations it was ok for me to be human and uncertain. As always, it depends on the context. 

So over the years, I’ve learned to practice three techniques that help me show up as self-assured and confident even when I don’t feel that way to start with. 

Step # 1:  Practice builds confidence. I cannot shy away from or avoid those parts of my job that I fear. I’ve learned that the best thing to do is just “do it afraid” enough times that I build skills over time and then the fear naturally goes away. For example, doing presentations or speeches on stage used to strike fear in me. Now, I still get a little bit anxious in certain scenarios that are less than familiar but I remember that I’ve practiced, and I even find that a little bit of nervousness actually helps me do a better job. Then I just do it. 

Step # 2   Deep breathing engages calm. The other technique that works right in the moment if I get the feeling of butterflies in my gut, is deep diaphragm breathing. If I take six deep breaths, the parasympathetic system does its job to calm my nerves. I do this breathing technique as often as I need to even while I am presenting. I bring a glass of water to the podium to help the audience think that I am drinking water, but I’m actually taking a moment for breath. Then, with greater calm, I focus on what I want to say next. 

Step # 3:  Manage thoughts with a confident persona and mindset. The third technique I use is to choose a fun confident persona I want to embody. One of my favorites is to envision the captain in the Master and Commander movie when he was atop the mast and looking forward to land. He appeared as in control and forward thinking. I imagine myself strong and confident like this, the master of my destiny. I square my shoulders, stand confidently and lift my chin. All of this triggers dopamine and other chemicals in the body that actually produces confident chemistry and feelings.  It really works, so be sure to try it! 

Being confident isn’t something that all of us are born with. But it can be practiced in the moment and further developed over time. Remember it is critical that we develop this character strength if we expect our teams to embrace and follow our vision. The bonus is that it also feels good!