Making the move from middle management to the executive suite requires a healthy dose of confidence. Executives have to make critical, wide-reaching decisions, often with limited information and time—then persuade others to execute those decisions. Self-assurance is a must.
Yet gaining confidence can be a struggle. The “Impostor Syndrome” is real: researchers at Georgia State University found that 33% of the high-achieving adults they interviewed did not feel they deserved their success. The Imposter Syndrome meant that sufferers opted out of important career opportunities, to their financial and personal detriment.
Women in particular struggle with confidence. They often are less adept at moving forward after setbacks, reading temporary failures as permanent deficiencies, and they often have smaller professional social safety nets than men.
The good news is that confidence can be learned, like any career skill. Here are 10 steps that can have you operating from a place of power:
1) When in doubt, act. It’s the difference between running and stagnant water. When you’re stagnant, doubt and insecurities breed like mosquitoes. Dale Carnegie wrote that “inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage.” Fear of failure can paralyze us, as we almost always overestimate the consequences. Build your confidence instead by taking action, often.
2) Do something outside your comfort zone each day. If we don’t stretch our comfort zones, they shrink. Constantly challenge and improve yourself, and you’ll become comfortable doing new things—and you will establish your identity (both to yourself and others) as someone who takes risks. Each new thing you try adds to your knowledge and skill base, and provides you with a foundation of competence. This is the bedrock of any successful career.
3) Put the focus on others. Choose to be conscious of others instead of self-conscious. Ask people questions. Turn conversations into a game where you try to find a connection with the other person. Give compliments generously, and volunteer to help others when you can. Looking for the best in others will help you see it in yourself.
4) Cultivate mentors. Their advice and connections are invaluable, plus you will make better decisions about opportunities thanks to their objective assessments of the pros and cons. And you will be much more willing to take risks knowing you have supporters who will help you get back up on your feet if you fail.
5) Keep self-talk positive. It’s hard to feel confident if someone puts you down all the time. It’s impossible if that naysayer is you. Watch how you talk to yourself. Is it how you would talk to a friend? If not, then make a change.
6) Eliminate negative people from your network. You absolutely need to invite and be receptive to constructive criticism if you want to grow as a professional and as an individual. But recognize that some people will never be happy with you or with life, and it is a waste of time to try to convince them of your worth. What’s more, their sour outlook on life is contagious. Learn to identify these people quickly, and move on.
7) Take care of your health. Make time for exercise, and get enough rest. Your body must be physically ready to take on challenges.
8) Do your homework. Keep up-to-date on the news in your industry, and know your company and department inside and out. If you have a challenging task ahead, prepare and practice in your mind. Nothing builds confidence like knowledge and preparation.
9) Watch your body language. Your posture and overall appearance affect both your mental state and how others perceive (and thus respond) to you. If you want to be a leader, you have to dress and act the part. Stand and sit up straight, make eye contact, and remember to smile. Wear the professional clothing of your industry. Eliminate the telltale signs of nervousness: excessive twitching, closed-off posturing (crossed arms and legs, hunched shoulders), and shallow breathing.
10) Practice gratitude daily. In a recent study of how successful people spend the first hour of each day, the No. 1 response was investing time in thinking about the things for which they are most grateful. Starting your day by saying “thank you” for the good in your life makes it more likely that you will approach the day’s challenges with the proper perspective.
Like public speaking or leadership, confidence is a professional skill that can be improved. According to Dr. Peter Buckley of Georgia Regents University, “As you add experiences, you’re more likely to gain confidence. And with confidence, you will embrace new experiences.” Start growing your confidence today.
Becky Blalock is the author of the new book, “Dare: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge.” You can take a free quiz to measure your current confidence level at her website,BeckyBlalock.com.