Building Executive Presence: Confidence

Confident Business WomanTwo months ago, we blogged about the Top Ten Soft Skills that Compose Executive Presence.  We received much positive feedback about this blog and how it broke Executive Presence into something that we can talk about specifically.  This month we’ll begin a series on how to build some of these components.  We begin with confidence.  This is perhaps the most oft-cited quality desired by the executives we coach.

We broke “confidence” into these components:

  1. Clarity about who one is and comfort with being liked/accepted, or not, by others
  2. Having no apology for one’s presence, ideas or opinions (not to be confused with pompousness or bullying)
  3. Taking up space with one’s being/personality and  physical gestures (not shrinking or being meek in expression)
  4. Willing to express one’s ideas, including willing to say when wrong

Consider that confidence is both a skill and a quality.  In other words, it’s both something you can practice and improve on (a skill) and something that comes across as an ineffable element that’s a culmination of a variety of factors.

In order to address “confidence” as Executive Coaches, we look at the end goal – what the client wants to accomplish.  Generally it’s along the lines of what’s mentioned above.  Next, we look at what’s currently in the way of that happening.  Take Nathan, one of our VP clients.  It was brought to his attention that while his title carried a lot of weight with his direct reports, he was not seen as really fitting the role in the eyes of those he reported to in the company. With his direct reports he was relatable and well-liked but he was nervous and quiet in meetings with those above him.  He rarely voiced his opinion in these meetings without looking to his EVP for guidance, despite being an expert with two decades experience.  Nathan lacked confidence.  He knew he knew the material technically backwards and forwards, but he lacked the willingness to speak about it in the higher level meetings.

Through our executive coaching, Nathan was able to see that deep down he was most interested in being liked and not ruffling any feathers.  This quality had served him well for years in building professional relationships, but was now getting in his way in these high level meetings.  Once we got to the root of the dis-empowering belief he had, i.e. that holding an opinion is not the same as being aggressive/unlikeable, he was able to start experimenting with speaking up more.  Nathan began to see that what he had feared was going to be seen as aggressive and forceful was actually appreciated by the other leaders in the room; they wanted to hear what Nathan had to offer from his years of experience.  Holding an opinion became a contribution rather than a threat.  Since Nathan had already developed a good sense of delivery over the years, he was able to express these opinions in a constructive way, becoming a much more valuable asset in the meetings.

Nathan’s behavior read to the others as “confident” because he was clear about his contribution, was willing to speak, and expressed himself without apology.  Note though that to Nathan it didn’t initially FEEL like confidence.  To him it felt like being willing to be uncomfortable long enough to fight off the voice in his head saying “don’t say that, they’ll take it as being aggressive and you’ll lose their friendship.”

If Nathan had simply “acted confident” on top of his dis-empowering underlying belief, he likely would have come off as awkward and pompous.  He would have felt fake and others would have detected the disconnect.  We all know when we see that in someone.  To make a true shift, we need to adjust the underlying belief and take new action from there.

If you’re looking to increase your confidence level, take a look at the underlying beliefs that have you “not confident”.  What do you believe (deep down, secretly, subconsciously) that has you acting the way you currently are?  That’s the belief to dismantle.  Ask for assistance from a coach to go deeper than you can on your own.  When you start operating from a new ground rule, the actions will shift.

If you know someone in your company that could benefit from Executive Coaching in this area, contact us for a complimentary consultation.

Building Executive Presence: Confidence