Becoming a Leader – When you Lack Self-Confidence

How a misfit overcame her feelings of inadequacy to be promoted ahead of her peers.

There are few organizations that can honestly say they are not suffering from a shortage of effective leaders.  Organizations struggle from a lack of leadership and yet they invest little if any time in helping their people understand leadership.  Without understanding, and the presence of strong role models, many people lack the confidence to step into leadership roles, or they are promoted into a leadership role without training and fail because no one helped them develop the confidence they needed to lead effectively.

Without confidence new leaders will inevitably fail because no one wants to follow a leader who lacks confidence.  Many people believe it is impossible to generate the confidence required to lead others if you weren’t born with it.  There are countless examples of people who have created the necessary confidence and gone on to become effective leaders.  Confidence is definitely not something you were born with, and yet it is critical to leadership development.

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I am reminded of a story of a lady named Kathy Burns.  When I first met Kathy she was working as a consultant for Ernst & Whinney in Houston, Texas.

Calling Kathy a consultant was a little bit of a stretch as her primary role was to help the other consultants write proposals and final reports for their clients.  She was working for a technology consulting firm and yet she knew very little about technology and she had very little interaction with clients.  In situations where the budget was tight, Kathy’s time was not charged to the client.

Kathy was happy to work from her office and not interact with clients as she was older than most of the other consultants, and she was prematurely gray. Kathy did not feel like a leader and definitely did not have the self-confidence to lead.  Two years later Kathy was promoted to senior manager, ahead of many of her peers, and was leading a team of consultants on a major project in Houston.  Kathy’s transition into leadership was much quicker than the story implies.

Her journey into leadership started with her recognition of the value of her communication skills. Once people recognize they have a skill that clearly differentiates them from others, they are on the path to overcoming a self-confidence problem.  Most people have skills that make them unique and valuable in a certain way, although they frequently have trouble seeing or understanding the value of their skills.

To help develop their appreciation for their skills or strengths, many find a mentor or a coach.  The mentor can help confirm the skills you believe you have and will find ways to separate you from your peers. The final step is to take action and to put your skills into practice.

In Kathy’s case, once we helped her appreciate the value of her extraordinary communication skills, we started allowing her to make presentations to clients and crafted a role for her to help clients present their ideas.

As her exposure grew, we helped her develop some fundamental technical skills to enhance her credibility and continued to position her strategically on projects to help her build her confidence.  Kathy invested in herself as well.  Realizing the gift she possessed, she enrolled herself in Dale Carnegie courses to strengthen her skills as well as build upon the self-confidence she had started to develop.

Learn more about developing self-confidence and becoming a leader:  Click on photo below.


It is important to note that Kathy was honest and people trusted her.  For leaders to be effective in the long term they must be honest and capable of developing trusting relationships.

I have conducted a number of workshops where I take the least likely person in the room to lead anything and quickly have everyone else in the room voting to put that person in charge of a project leveraging a unique skill that they possess.  The process of identifying the skill and having others put forward a vote of confidence helps the designated leader develop the confidence they need to lead the project.

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