Build Your Confidence: Powerful Insights from Leaders (with Coaching Exercise) | by Dr. Sarah Evans MCC

Confident leader with folded arms looking at camera for how to be confident article

Discover What Confidence Means to You—and 5 Ways to Build It

Successful leaders in times of uncertainty and rapid change develop a keen sense of confidence that enables them to move forward when answers or actions are not readily apparent.

As a coach, you are a leader in our world: helping others find their way and become their best selves. So whether you're coaching leaders—or looking to grow your own leadership skills—this article is for you!

Let's begin by exploring what confidence means and I invite you to engage in the following exercise.

Confidence Exercise: Your Lived Experience

Take a few deep breaths… And think of a time when you felt truly confident.

Now answer these questions:

  • What was the situation?
  • What were your thoughts? What were you telling yourself?
  • What were your emotions? How did you feel?
  • What did you draw upon beyond your knowledge and skills?
  • As you are remembering this time, what are you thinking and feeling right now?

So, what does confidence mean to you?

From what you've just experienced in this brief reflection, consider these questions:

  • What for you is confidence?
  • How do you know when you are standing in your confidence?
  • What does this offer you and those around you?

What did you discover?

  • Now, from your discovery, write down 5-7 key personal strengths or characteristics.

Learnings From my Work

I've done this exercise with many leaders in our coaching work together.

Not surprisingly, they've shared a wide variety of situations—literally the good, the bad and the ugly.

Yet, what stands out is the consistency of their discoveries. And that these elements of their discoveries are often the work of our coaching—because confidence can be developed and grown.

Here are the 9 Top Learnings about Confidence from Leaders:

  1. They work on being what I call "self-solid"—clear on who they are (as a leader), how they want to show up, where they need to grow.
  2. They cultivate a calm assurance and trust in self, from a centred personal conviction.
  3. They embrace a growth mindset—an openness and curiosity. They engage in possibility thinking. Learning is a core way of being.
  4. Even in the face of fear or anxiety, they seek to embody courage and a sense of optimism.
  5. Their thoughts are supportive and building (e.g., "I've/We've got this"), rather than demeaning or destructive.
  6. They incorporate resilience strategies and practices to support adaptability and the capacity to navigate uncertainty.
  7. Even when the metaphorical skies are cloudy or stormy, they draw on their vision and stay forward focused.
  8. They leverage the strengths of the resources and those around them.
  9. They recognize and celebrate accomplishments—both their own and others.

What Confidence Truly is—and is Not

Confidence is not narcissism or arrogance. Rather, confidence comes from an honest, intrinsic self-measurement.

For example, confident leaders ask themselves questions like:

  • How am I doing compared to last time?
  • How am I up for this new _____ ? [fill in the blank eg. role, task]
  • How can I hold a calm assurance and optimism that "I've got this" in this moment of fear, anxiety, uncertainty?

Arrogance, on the other hand, according to Marcia Reynolds, stems from "other-measurement (how am I doing compared to others). Arrogance comes from the need to project superiority to be deemed credible or worthwhile." 1

5 Ways to Develop Confidence

1) Learn from self-reflection

Tap into and leverage learnings from your own self-reflection, for example your 5 to 7 personal strengths or characteristics from the above exercise.

  • Where might leaning into your confidence serve you well?
  • How might you draw on these 5-7 personal strengths or characteristics the next time you're in an unfamiliar, uncertain situation?

2) Hold an intentional focus

Consider the "9 top learnings from leaders" above. Now choose to hold intentional focus on one (or more) of these learnings.

  • What strategy or practice will you incorporate?

3) Focus on your strengths

Research from Gallup2 indicates that those who can hone in on and leverage their strengths are not only more confident, but also more engaged at work and more likely to achieve their goals.

Reflect on these questions:

  • What do you know are your strengths? (Feel free to ask those around you to share what strengths they observe in you.)
  • How and where can you leverage these strengths more intentionally?

4) Embrace a growth mindset

Psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck explains in her book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success that people with a growth mindset tend to embrace change and "persist in the face of setbacks, see effort as the path to mastery, learn from criticism and find lessons and inspiration in the success of others."3

Dweck also shares the power of yet.How can you shift your thinking by embracing the concept of _____ yet?

  • For example, what do you notice shifting in yourself when you reframe "I can't do this" as "I can't do this—yet"? Or "I don't know _______" to "I don't know _______ yet"?

5) Listen

Finally, listen to yourself, your intuition, your inner wisdom.

Equally, listen attentively and intentionally to others. Seek their observational feedback/feedforward to support your continued growth and development.


You can develop and grow your confidence. You can also support your coachees in developing and growing their confidence.

Here's a reminder: know who you are, your purpose, what you stand for, how you want to live your life and how you want to lead.

Preacher: Believe me, I wasn't as confident at your age. That's a part of growing up, figuring out who you are and how you want to live your life. Virgin River, Season 3, Netflix


If you liked this article on how to develop confidence you may also like:

Sarah Evans, MCC Guest Author

Contributing Author:

Dr. Sarah Evans, PhD, MCC, Dip. CS is passionate about working with visionary decision-makers and influencers inspired by the transformative potential of coaching. She is an executive leadership & team coach, facilitator, OD consultant, coaching supervisor, and mentor coach at Evans Leadership Group. Sarah is dedicated to cultivating resilient leaders—supporting individuals, teams, organizations and coaches lead and thrive in complexity. Her goal is to maximize human capacity, organizational capabilities, and contributions to societal well-being. Her key working themes are relationships, resilience, results! Visit her website here and connect with her on Linkedin. Sarah is a member of the International Coach Federation, where she holds a Master Certified Coach (MCC) credential.

Learn more about Sarah & see all their articles here >>

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    • Sarah Evans

      Thank you Kim, I appreciate your kind words. And to nudge your reflection, what would you add?

  1. Eva Van Krugel

    This is so helpful, ties together rich resources/experience into a pithy pathway. I've been doing work with all female leadership teams, and confidence inquiry is pervasive. I'd love to integrate some of your wisdom here and of course, cite respectfully! Thank you for the share Sarah!


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