If you've read my column for any length of time, you know that I've covered many varied aspects of leadership -- and hopefully I've helped you get a bigger picture of what it means to be an effective manager. But I've made an egregious omission. There is one particular component of leadership that is so important, so necessary, that without it, leadership cannot exist. That component is confidence.
Self-confidence is the fundamental basis from which leadership grows. Trying to teach leadership without first building confidence is like building a house on a foundation of sand. It may have a nice coat of paint, but it is ultimately shaky at best. While the leadership community has focused on passion, communication, and empowerment, they've ignored this most basic element and in the process they have planted these other components of leadership in a bed of quicksand.
At the end of the day, leadership is about having the confidence to make decisions. If someone is afraid to make and commit to decisions, all of the communication and empowerment in the world won't make a squat of difference. For example, one former client of mine was so averse to making commitments that she would not give a straight answer without a qualifier. Every attempt to hold her to her word was met with, "well, maybe but I'm not really sure." It wasn't lack of passion or communication that held her back. It was her lack of confidence to commit to her decisions and goals.
As adults we try to accident proof our world by covering all of the bases, but wrapping ourselves in a cocoon of safe decisions is the antithesis of bold leadership. What separates those who need a mountain of statistical analysis (and still can't predict the future) from those who inspire us with their ability to lead us into the unknown is self-confidence. While the fearful will agonize over decisions and always make the safe choice, the confident will take the information that they have and take action. That is the definition of leadership. I often talk to people who are considering a career change and invariably they say, "But I'm not really sure if I'm going to like doing BLANK, because I haven't really experienced it." Why is it that most of us have 100 times more courage as children then we do as adults? Think about it, a child obviously has never been in space, or served as president of the United States, but children won't hesitate to say they want to be an astronaut or be the President, while most adults are so fearful of choosing incorrectly that they stay in careers that provide them no satisfaction.
Not only does confidence allow you to make the tough decisions that people expect from a strong leader but it's reassuring to your employees. It allows you to lead meetings with authority, to accept candor and open communication, and the greater they perceive your force of will, the more faith they will have in your company and its mission. As a leader, consider how well you deliver a company speech. If you deliver it with confidence it inspires your team as intended, but the same speech delivered with doubt becomes a point of mockery. I was once involved in a company that consistently missed its Wall Street target every quarter. And every quarter the senior management would call an all-hands meeting and meekly say, "We've worked hard and we just need to keep doing what we've been doing." Not only was this ridiculous since what they'd been doing always missed the target, but the uncertain manner in which the message was delivered only created more derision.
How confident are you when speaking to the troops and delivering a presentation that sets the company direction for the future? Are they rallying behind you or can they see through your lack of certainty? This is the difference between a confident leader and one who goes through the motions while lacking core convictions.
Self-confidence is so important for leaders that I have created a free 20-minute video called Business Confidence 101 that I encourage you to download at the following link (www.killerattitude.com/freevideo). Any discussion on leadership without first addressing the internal confidence of the leader in question is little more than window dressing. Passion? No one will be passionate if you can't set a course for the future with confidence. Communication? People don't listen to those who are unsure of themselves. Empowerment? If you don't have the internal fortitude to make decisions and commitments, then empowerment is just an empty word. Confidence is the foundation, and if you want to be a strong leader then you must pour a foundation of stone.