7 Ways You can Help Leaders Enhance Their Confidence | By Delaney Tosh

When someone reaches a place in their career where they've earned the title of 'leader', it's easy to assume they must inhabit, better than the rest of us, that golden space we yearn to know: Confidence. And golden that space is… in our minds, anyway. The confident person doesn't fret about saying or doing the wrong thing or lose sleep, and handles sticky situations and difficult people with aplomb. Leadership and confidence go hand in hand, right?

Not so, according to the research. In fact, the opposite is true for many. The more responsibility we gain or the grander the job title, the more we may doubt our abilities and look to outside sources to model leadership style.

In this article we're going to harness confidence research and your coaching tools.

When coaching a client who is growing in her career, it's important to tease out her experience and beliefs about her confidence. While the coaching focus may be to develop specific skills, a client's confidence and beliefs about "what it is to be a leader" could work against the goals they're trying to achieve, and bog down the coaching progress. Moreover, your client's ability to engender trust and lead strong teams suffers should they show up as inauthentic when basing their style on misguided beliefs of what it is to be a leader.

The good news is that coaches are uniquely positioned to help their clients bust through myths held about being a confident leader. And we have the coaching tools to help leaders enhance their confidence. But first, let's discuss common myths and look at what evidence-based research tells us about confidence.

Two Prominent Myths about Confidence:

  1. Confidence is innate
  2. You can fake it until you make it

Myth #1: Confidence is innate

Myths about confidence abound. And one of the biggest is that confidence is innate - you either have it or you don't. This myth is busted by recent research showing that even those who we assume to be very confident, those holding high-ranking positions of great responsibility, admit that on many occasions they quake in their boots.

People grow in confidence by doing and then learning.

In their book, "The Confidence Code", Katty Kay and Claire Shipman spoke with neuroscientists and psychologists researching aspects of confidence and human behaviour whose findings indicate that confidence is linked to what we believe - and do.

You have to believe you have the capacity to succeed, you have to take action, to be willing to learn from mistakes, seeing them as stepping stones to succeeding, and you have to build your mastery through practice while learning through failures.

People who seemingly lack confidence may hold a belief in their own lack of effectiveness. They believe they aren't capable; therefore they avoid challenges, take the easy route, and dwell on negative results.

Myth #2: You can fake it until you make it

There is a distinction between believing in yourself and faking confidence. Those who fake it until they make it are actually working against themselves. When you feel inauthentic, you tend to also feel out of integrity, and this can feed your self-doubt. When you constantly second guess yourself, your ability to make effective, efficient decisions is stymied.

Here are 7 Tools & Techniques to Help Leaders Enhance Their Confidence

1. Find out what your client believes about being a confident leader

Understand what your client believes about being a confident leader and tease out the distinctions. Get curious:

  1. Where do your client's beliefs come from?
  2. How does your client show up when operating from this belief?
  3. What is their saboteur having them believe about themselves, about their construct around confidence and leadership?

It may help to explore what confidence is - and is not:

Confidence is:

  • Assertiveness
  • Listening
  • Creating structure and boundaries
  • Speaking up more, being forthright and honest
  • Belief in self and in your capacity to master something
  • Action - trying despite doubt, taking the chance
  • Efficient decision-making
  • Feeling comfortable
  • Having an appetite for challenge
  • Not letting difficulties stop you

Confidence is Not:

  • Aggressiveness, being pushy
  • Self-aggrandizing, blustering, talking over others
  • Condescension
  • About being liked, being nice
  • Ruminating - agonizing over doubts, internalizing set-backs
  • Desire without action
  • Hesitancy

The power of belief:

According to Dr. Richard Petty, professor of psychology at Ohio State University, when we're confident we turn our thoughts into judgments about what we're capable of and then we transform those judgments into actions.

When we're confident those thoughts and judgments are likely to be supportive or positive. But it works both ways, doesn't it? When we're lacking confidence those thoughts and judgments of what we're capable of are holding us back.

So, confidence is really about choosing better thoughts - saying to yourself, "I am capable" and "if I try this I might fail, but I will learn and succeed from that failure".

What you focus your attention on grows:

Most of our clients are incredibly capable. The only thing holding them back is their belief that they're not. In fact psychologist, Dr. Zachary Estes at the University of Milan found that people tend to be capable of mastering something - even if they don't believe they're capable. And when doubters were told, or told themselves, a positive message about their capacity to do something, they performed better in tasks.

Research shows that women, in particular, tend to doubt and downplay their abilities, so it's important to watch for this tendency and help them lean into thoughts about their capacity instead.

"Where you put your attention is what will grow" seems a quaint notion, but Dr. Sarah Shomstein, neuroscientist at George Washington University, says research shows this is true! Focusing on something with our thoughts does, indeed, make it more likely we will take action in that direction.

So help your clients focus their thinking on their strengths and their capacity to meet challenges successfully.

2. Identify Values

Values are the foundation of confident action. When coaching a new client, we tend to begin with values identification and this is a perfect starting place when coaching leaders too.

Coaches have many tools to support our clients in clarifying and living into their values. Helping your client identify, clarify and put her values into action in her day-to-day leadership is a powerful way to support her in practicing, failing, learning and gaining mastery in many foundational skills, such as clear communication and listening, being forthright, engagement, trusting (i.e. not micro-managing), and decision-making.

The research in confidence and leadership clearly shows that being in action is the key to building confidence. When your client feels they are showing up authentically, they will feel more positive about their abilities and experience less doubt. Putting values into action is the foundation.

3. Work with the Saboteur

  • Identify where your client's saboteur shows up and what it has her believe.
  • Then help your client tap into her inner sage, instead of her saboteur.
  • Check out Shirzad Chamine's book and his website quiz on positiveintelligence.com.

4. Help your client rewire for action

Work with self-awareness and interpersonal awareness to help your client rewire for action, especially in situations they find challenging:

  • What does your client feel in these situations?
  • How do they react?
  • What are the underlying beliefs at play?
  • How does your client abandon their values?
  • What are other perspectives they could employ?

5. Recognize and reframe negative thoughts

Design homework that has your client notice negative thoughts and help them learn to recognize and reframe them.

Perhaps draw on Byron Katie's work to help your client question these thoughts to counteract ingrained beliefs, self-judgments and judgments of others. Listen for where your client can draw on their internal resource of self-compassion to allow them to develop a sturdier emotional safety net and be more accepting of weaknesses or failures rather than ruminating on them.

6. Work with your client to create a set of guiding questions for moments of difficulty

Help your client create a set of guiding questions to use when faced with challenging decisions.

Guiding questions are a useful structure to enhance efficiency in making difficult decisions. These can be values-based and include questions to help them feel secure they are looking at all the angles and making judgments based on values, vision, organizational and team objectives, environmental factors, input and insight.

7. Take bold action

Action learning - support your client in designing actions that may be challenging, but will forward learning. To support your client in mastery, be sure to debrief their actions and deepen the learning around failures or successes.

Confidence is like a muscle, built through action, and the confidence we get from mastery is contagious.


These are just a handful of the broad range of tools coaches have to support leaders in developing confidence.

Confidence comes from gaining mastery through action, changing belief patterns and self-talk, and learning to embrace failure while avoiding rumination on weaknesses and doubts. Our coach training gives us unique insight into what supports people to honour and act authentically from values and vision and to squelch their saboteur voices.

I'll leave you with a question: What can you design with your clients to help them build their confidence muscle?

For further reading on leadership, confidence and coaching tools, check out:

  1. The Confidence Code; Kay, K. & Shipman, C.
  2. Leadership Presence: Halpern; B.L. & Lubar, K.
  3. Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway; Jeffers, S.
  4. Daring Greatly; Brown, B.
  5. The Work; Katie, B.
  6. Positive Intelligence; Chamine, S.
  7. Mindful Leadership; Gonzalez, M.

If you liked this article on confidence and leadership, you may also like:

Image of strong, smiling businesswoman by kurhan via Shutterstock

Delaney Tosh Headshot

Contributing Author:

Delaney Tosh, CPCC, PCC, coaches women who want to radiate with confidence and thrive as leaders. She helps her clients navigate the hurdles unique to women in leadership and also delivers the Resilience at Work® Toolkit and Resilience at Work® Leader Scale, helping leaders and teams create optimal performance through resilience. She is co-creator of the Phoenix-Hearted Woman retreats and webinars, designed to help women build resilience and strengthen their foundation for being heard and making a difference in the world. Connect with Delaney at SquarePeg Leadership or on LinkedIn.

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


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