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Authentic Leadership - The Confidence Connection

Jane Sanders, President, GenderSmart® Solutions

The most savvy leaders understand that their character and vision, required for businesses to consistently compete and win, spring from their natural gifts and strengths – their authenticity. As people, both men and women, have aspired to leadership positions, or simply to be the best manager they can be, many have suppressed their natural balance of masculine-to-feminine qualities, trying to fit into the “man’s world” of business. They have lost touch with their authenticity. Courage and confidence are required to get it back.

Anna Freud, daughter of Sigmund, also the founder of child psychoanalysis, once said, “I used to look outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.”

Jane Sanders

The challenge for us is to dig deep enough inside to find our strength and confidence, and then when we find it, to use it – to apply it to our personal and professional lives. It is this confidence, found through self-awareness, that brings us back to our authenticity.

Authenticity involves living your truth, with integrity. It gives leadership its breath and pulse, and gives power to being real, not to being right. It involves leading with your natural gifts and strengths, and requires self-awareness and self-knowledge. Warren Bennis, leadership author and guru, stated, “Effective leaders – and effective people - understand that there is no difference between becoming an effective leader and becoming a fully integrated human being.”

Carol Gallagher, author of Going To The Top, wrote, “Your colleagues and bosses won’t give you credit for being genuine in business if they cannot give you credit for being genuine as a person.” There are no standard how-to instructions for being authentic because everyone’s authenticity is unique to them. The key is to learn how to discover what your specific authenticity looks like. And doing so requires confidence and self-awareness.

I define confidence as genuine self-value combined with a smartly courageous approach to life and business. Confidence is a blend of mindset and action. Genuine self-value requires concentrated and committed self-awareness; courage, confidence, or courageous action, grow with self-value.

A lack of self-awareness can result in someone being risk-averse, indecisive, a poor negotiator, rigid, aloof, defensive, or overly concerned with getting ahead. This same person will run over employees, not delegate enough, and generally lack integrity. Their communication may become too harsh, weak, and ineffective; they lack intuition and creativity; and their behavior may be inconsistent. People lacking awareness don’t promote themselves effectively; they work in isolation and don’t tend to mentor others; and they have trouble delivering difficult messages. Think about it – how could these behaviors affect business results? Client relationships? Your team? Your career? The quick and easy answer is…certainly not in a positive way!

Many tools and processes exist to help people become more self-aware. These include self-reflection, which if taken seriously and approached in a committed fashion can be quite insightful. Self-reflection activities can include listing strengths, passions, skills, roadblocks, and dreams; also considering values, personal vision, what’s draining you, how you want to be remembered, what would feel unfinished if not completed in your life, and many more. My From Stuck To Stellar - Life Planning workshop involves these insightful activities and more.

Other tools for self-awareness include 360-degree feedback surveys, books, tapes, workshops, coaching, counseling, journaling, and self-assessments.

The benefits of healthy self-awareness are numerous, and positively impact corporate and personal environments. Self-awareness improves your effectiveness in working with others by giving you insight into how your behavior affects them positively or negatively. It gives you confidence in decision-making, and helps you negotiate with others about difficult issues more skillfully and appropriately. Self-awareness gives you more confidence in your future, because with improved awareness of your personal vision and values, you can more easily determine the approaches to take to achieve your goals and to anticipate the obstacles that come your way. Self-awareness offers you invaluable peace of mind, and provides the courage needed to take necessary yet calculated risks.

What does this confidence, or courage, look like? Courage is not the absence of fear, as many believe. Everyone has fear. Everyone – even the bravest heroes. Everyone also has courage. One can’t exist without the other. Think about it - if you didn’t have fear, you wouldn’t need courage, would you?

Keep in mind that “heroes” feel fear every bit as much as we do. Fear is simply a reaction to new challenges. The difference is, heroes know from experience that if they just hold onto the fear and let themselves feel it for just one moment longer, rather than running from it or denying it, they’ll break through to the courage on the other side. They don’t focus on the fear - they expect it as part of what they do. And breakthrough is exactly what it feels like to face fear and do it anyway. The pride and thrill of pushing through fear to accomplish even the smallest feat is unparalleled, and better yet, contagious and addictive. Once you know how that feels, the second time is a little easier. Then you can apply those same victorious feelings to another unrelated challenge, with equal success. And so on!

Courage is not a gift, but a decision. A most important element of confidence, or courage, is action. It takes action to step through fear and the paralysis fear can create. Make the decision to act! The action module of my confidence definition - a smartly courageous approach to life and business - involves taking calculated risks and can look like speaking up in an important meeting, using intuition with your boss or a client, being decisive with all the details of your project, and acting like you have already made it to the next level. Courageous action can involve standing up for your convictions against opposition, diving into committed self-awareness, telling the truth in tough situations, setting challenging goals, or discussing a difficult topic with a big client.

To become more courageous at work, in addition to making self-awareness part of your life, ask yourself these questions: Thinking of someone I admire and respect, how would they handle this situation? What would happen – emotionally, mentally, physically, career-wise – if I didn’t do it? What’s the worst that would happen if I did do the thing/action that scares me? How have my co-workers been courageous at work? What impressions did these actions give me? How have I been courageous? How did my actions make me feel? How can I be more courageous? What specific benefits will result? Dialoguing with friends or trusted co-workers can increase the insights discovered through this series of questions.

Successful leadership, whether professional or personal, requires authenticity, which in turn calls for committed self-awareness. Confidence, a key component of effective leadership, stems from self-awareness. As Lao-Tsu philosophized, “He who knows much about others may be learned, but he who understands himself is more powerful. He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.”

Jane Sanders, president of GenderSmart Solutions, is an expert in gender issues and communication and helps companies create GenderSmart cultures to retain and advance women. She is a consultant, coach, and speaker in the areas of gender communication, recruiting & retention of women, strategic life planning, and authentic leadership confidence.
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