How Can Leaders Build the Confidence to be Disruptive?

Entrepreneurs / 17th June 2024

Regardless of how you feel about yourself, the moment you gain the title ‘manager’, ‘executive’ or ‘boss’, everything changes. Even with a direct report of just one, you gain the power to answer questions such as, ‘Can I take a day off? Can I take my lunch hour early? What should I work on next? Can I move my desk? Can I have a tattoo? Is this good work? Can I have a pay rise? Can I go for a promotion?’

There is often a perception that leaders are a superhuman breed and that those in leadership have superpowers. They don’t feel as we mere mortals do. They think strategically, have high levels of emotional intelligence, stay calm in a crisis and have unparalleled levels of resilience. Yet, in reality, any leader or manager is as human as you and I. They struggle with prioritisation, dread difficult conversations, work long hours, battle with exhaustion, have challenges at home and often wonder whether they are on the right path. I say this to encourage you. Disruptive leaders are not superheroes; what they are is united in their drive to make a difference. This, aligned with a set of lived values, is what will make your fire succeed where others will fail.

The confidence to disrupt

Many leaders struggle with low levels of confidence. There’s even a name for it: imposter syndrome. ‘How did I get here?’ these leaders ask themselves. ‘When will I be found out?’

It’s more common than you might think. I’ve lost count of the times leaders have confided that they live with a permanent sense of dread that they are about to be ‘found out’. They feel like imposters, their blood full of adrenaline, constantly trying to prove themselves. It is often comforting to realise you are not alone in feeling like this. In fact, well over half of those we coach struggle with confidence. In these cases, I often remind leaders that courage matters more than confidence. After all, confidence is not a predictor of success. 

Many strong and highly successful leaders have scored very low on confidence assessments, but their courage drives their outstanding results. They are doing the right thing despite their fear and uncertainty. What can be surprising to these leaders is how others perceive them. In fact, they often describe their peers (other leaders) in glowing and inspirational terms – when I know those same leaders sometimes feel crippled by imposter syndrome. Aside from demonstrating that often, our perception of ourselves is off (and this is where feedback and coaching really help), it also highlights that we are unaware of our impact on others.

By the time we find ourselves in a senior position, we set the tone for everyone, regardless of our confidence. A leader defines the who, what, where, how, and why. And not just on the big things. If you would like a document to be presented in a certain way, woe betide anyone who doesn’t comply. If you want certain words to be used, they must be. If you dress smartly, there will be an expectation that your team will dress smartly, too. If you do or don’t swear, your team will follow your lead. If you get in early, answer emails over the weekend, and check Slack at midnight, there will be pressure to do the same. Get the idea? Followers follow. Why? Because leaders have power. If you understand your purpose and how your organisation needs to change in order to fulfil that purpose, you ensure that those who follow you and those you influence are caught up in something meaningful, regardless of personal levels of confidence. 

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