The Confidence Factor

Author: Joy Kosta, MSWP, MHCS, HRBP | Source: HCI | Published: November 10, 2011

When you prepare an important leadership deliverable, to what extent does self-confidence help with the impact?  Anyone in sales knows that conveying belief in a product’s performance helps to influence buyers’ perceptions. If you’re among the people who over prepare, do you think that helps with your confidence and your ability to address contingencies that arise?  

Valerie Young, author of “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women,” reviewed in this week’s Wall Street Journal, says, “Seventy percent of successful people have experienced the imposter syndrome at some point in their careers. While men can suffer from it…it is more common among women… the imposter syndrome usually strikes women who make it in male-dominated industries.”

Yet a McKinsey survey of men and women college grads,"How Women Can Contribute" (April 2011) found that women who make the leap to middle management and on to senior management are increasingly confident that they can deliver the goods. In “Changing Companies’ Minds about Women,” McKinsey authors Joanna Barsh and Lareina Yee say, “Despite significant corporate commitment to the advancement of women’s careers, progress appears to have stalled. The percentage of women on boards and senior-executive teams remains stuck at around 15 percent in many countries, and just 3 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women.”

So what happens in the workplace that erodes confidence, or gives women the edge? Certainly being appropriately stretched into developmental opportunities with the right mix of support and direction makes a difference. Noel Tichy says that in planning our talent development, we want people to be neither in their comfort zone or in a panic zone, but in a learning zone with just the right amount of heat/challenge; this builds both competence and confidence.

When it comes to management styles that correlate with success, Daniel Goleman, expert on emotional intelligence (EI) says EI competencies essential to leaders’ success may vary by gender. Goleman blogs, “Some measures suggest women are on average better than men at some forms of empathy, and men do better than women when it comes to managing distressing emotions… If the other person is upset, or the emotions are disturbing, women’s brains tend to stay with those feelings. But men’s brains do something else: they sense the feelings for a moment, then tune out of the emotions and switch to other brain areas that try to solve the problem that’s creating the disturbance.”

Certainly managing stress (an EI competency) can affect confidence as well as achievement. We all know how great we feel after a vacation, exercise, or time with loved ones; we return to the workplace re-energized to deal with any leadership challenge. Sharon Allen, Chairperson of Deloitte, models that work-life balance is essential to professional success. Deloitte is repeatedly recognized for supporting women’s development; their annual Women’s Initiative (WIN) report points out that, “the top 20 organizations in the Business Week Best Companies for Leaders are twice as likely to have more women in senior leadership positions.”

Self-confidence and ability don’t necessarily correlate. To what extent is self-confidence a function of age or gender, or the work environment? Melanie Kirkpatrick from The Hudson Institute, whose article appeared this week in the WSJ, says, “Self-confidence—in either sex—is an overrated virtue in our me-centered culture. A little self-doubt once in a while can be a positive attribute.” We’ve all heard “number two” may try harder, but being number one, confidence not aside, takes sustained effort, commitment to continuous improvement, and life balance. It may be human for confidence to waiver, but holding the course wins the race.

photo courtesy of Tim Wilson