I am uniquely qualified for this task because I am oh-so-familiar with self-confidence issues, as they played out many times in my early career. I would freeze up, quake in my boots, get dry mouth, gastric problems – you name it. Yet somehow, by the grace of God and a little experience, I was able to overcome these self-imposed limitations.
My greatest lesson in confidence came from a boss named Jill.
Jill was a commanding presence. She was over six feet tall with jet black hair and an outgoing personality. You could practically hear theme music playing as she breezed down the hallways, everyone’s eyes drawn to her fluid figure. Jill’s most magnetic feature, however, was her spoken voice. With great facility, she could master any business conversation utilizing a curated portfolio of the latest management slang. It made her sound smart and justified – and her tone was only condescending enough to make you want to admire her.
After working with her for a few weeks, I naturally began to mimic Jill, using the same cutting-edge acronyms and management jargon while projecting a newfound commanding tone of voice:
“Well of course Bob didn’t close the deal! At the end of the day his freakin’ RFP wasn’t actionable, and corporate didn’t have the bandwidth to juice the numbers enough to bounce that dead cat!”
Really, it was the same mundane sales cycles I was talking about, but what excitement I could now bring to the hallway conversations! My co-workers began to look at me differently, as if I suddenly knew what I was talking about.
Ironically, my confidence began to build as I realized that I really did know something worth speaking out about, and soon my inner confidence caught up to my external facade.
If you are a leader in any capacity, it is your obligation to engender confidence from your team. Here are four quick tips for getting there fast:
1. Project your voice. I was at a restaurant recently where the young waitress spoke with this soft, high-pitched voice, like Mickey Mouse. “Would you like a salad with that?” she asked in her squeaky falsetto. I wanted to throw a roll at her for allowing herself to behave so timorously in public, when I knew darn well there was a fully-grown woman’s voice in there somewhere. No one respects a whisperer or a mumbler. If you want to be taken seriously, open your mouth and enunciate every word. Take voice lessons, or theatre, if you must, or stand in an empty auditorium and practice speaking to the wide open space.
2. Stand up straight and tall. Just like your mother said, your body language and posture reflects how you think of yourself. Plus, you’ll look taller.
3. Maintain eye contact. Simple, but essential for making people believe in you. Don’t keep looking down at your paper, or off to the wall. Look people in the eye while you speak to them, as if you really believe what you are saying. They’ll start believing you too.
4. Keep up the energy in the room. You don’t have to be a charismatic personality to maintain a high stream of energy. You can offer something as simple as acknowledging people for jobs well done, and starting a round of applause. Everyone appreciates being appreciated, and it keeps up the excitement.
By the way, Jill was fired after a few months. It was determined that she would not be replaced, so I decided to move into her empty office. It just seemed appropriate, with my newfound confidence and all.