10 Steps to Executive-Level Confidence

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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.

Need a Pep Talk?

need-pep-talkIn speaking with a variety of entrepreneurs on a daily basis, I’ve noticed a surprising theme: a lack of confidence.

From sales to management, there is always something we feel we can do better. And for those just launching their own business, hearing ‘no’ or dealing with mishaps can take an even bigger toll on your self-esteem. You learn very quickly that working for yourself is an emotional roller coaster, to say the least.

Ironically, when I first started my PR firm fifteen media, I was filled with self-assurance (or more like arrogance). I thought it would be a piece of cake to build my own business.

As I started to get more clients, my overinflated ego would soon deflate. A combination of dealing with not-so-happy clients and constant rejection from the press, made it hard to maintain confidence in my company. To this day, it can still be a challenge to unwaveringly believe in my abilities.

So while I know the difficulty first hand, I also know what a little burst of confidence can do. Here are some tips for giving your self esteem a boost:

Don’t wallow. A few months ago, a client decided to let me go before my contract was up. Despite all my best efforts, I just wasn’t getting them the results they wanted. It caused me to have a full-on emotional breakdown, and it made me question if I was a good publicist.

From that experience, I learned that if I was going to persevere on, I had to get over these scenarios. I have established a one-hour pity party rule, meaning when things don’t go my way, I only have one hour to dwell on it and then it’s back to business.

When you start to feel sorry for yourself, channel positive energy into your startup — focusing on your other clients, customers, products or what have you.

Seek feedback. I realize asking people to critique you can be scary. However, the only way to create the best business you can is to constantly use feedback to improve. I try to periodically check in with my clients to see how they are feeling about my services.

As an entrepreneur, if you do this often, you help to nip problems in the bud, before they become crises. Also, if you are asking for feedback, it won’t all be negative. Nothing is a better confidence booster than hearing the things you are doing well.

Learn how to cut your losses. The greatest strengths of an entrepreneur are determination and persistence, yet, these qualities can also be her biggest weaknesses. Sometimes you just have to learn how to let go.

There will be times when you have to make the decision to part ways with a client or a vendor. If you two don’t have a synchronized vision or every small detail is an uphill battle, it might be in your interest to say goodbye.

A rocky relationship, centered on all the things you are doing wrong, can be very taxing to your ego. To propel a business forward, you don’t need constant negative energy.

Build a support system. Being an entrepreneur can be an isolating experience, and it is easy to become your own worst enemy. Sometimes, I find myself sitting around obsessing over all the things that aren’t quite right. Why isn’t my company growing faster? Will client X rehire me again? Why can’t I get more placements?

Negative thoughts can be very time consuming and detrimental to your vision, so it’s essential to surround yourself with positive people to snap you back to reality. Having a support system to lean on will make you realize there is a world out there beyond your business, which is essential for your mental health.

As an entrepreneur, confidence is your best asset and will be a critical component to building a successful business. However, it can be hard to maintain confidence when you are constantly dealing with rejection. I never used to believe it when people told me that entrepreneurial confidence comes along with time. Once you have seen your business prove itself, you will see the light. In the meantime, fake it until you make it. -Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to streamline media relations in a digital era. -Rebekah Epstein is the founder of fifteen media, an agency that works exclusively with PR firms to streamline media relations in a digital era. – Rebekah Epstein

How do you build up your confidence? Let us know in the comment section below.