Leadership: Maximize Potential

Addressing the confidence gap: By Lisa Earle McLeod

Organizations are filled with untapped potential, undermined by the thousands of small slights that erode the confidence of anyone who doesn’t “fit in.” This is costly to everyone because when people aren’t confident, they’re not fully present and they don’t contribute as well as they could.

Why confidence erodes over time

It’s easy to say, “Be Confident!” Yet how confident would you feel if every day of your working life, someone told you, directly or subtly, you don’t belong here? What if whenever you spoke in front of a group people, they questioned your credentials or paid more attention to your appearance than your content? Sadly, this has often been the case for many women, and it’s even worse for people of color.

Over time, it becomes harder and harder to rally yourself. Even if it’s not happening right now, the baggage from past experiences puts you on guard. It’s like a death by a thousand cuts. Several years of an insult here, second-guessing there, makes it hard to walk into a room as your best self.

How you can help people show up as their best selves

I’ll never forget a meeting several years ago when I was presenting to an Executive team. They were all men, and all (seemingly) Type-A. The old drip, drip, you don’t belong here, you’re not good enough was ignited. Yet as I entered the room, the CEO stood up, shook my hand, gave me a big smile, and said, “I’m really intrigued by your work, and we’re delighted you’re here.” That was all it took, I no longer had to pretend to be confident, I was confident!

This is something every single one of us can do. When someone walks into the room or joins the Zoom call, it may be just another agenda item for us, yet for them, it’s a high stakes situation.

Avoid sitting back in judgment

When someone who might be feeling less than confident enters a meeting, saying, “I’m glad you’re here” can mean the world to them. Sitting back in judgment waiting for them to prove themselves erodes their confidence, and it keeps you from getting their best ideas. Even a seemingly confident exterior may be covering some inner fears. I was 45 years old and had already authored two books when that CEO’s words gave me a boost. If they’re the only “whatever” in the room, your words can help them put forth their best ideas.

Set people up for success (in advance)

Years ago, I adopted a technique to spotlight people who might not otherwise take center stage. It’s something anyone can do. When I do a keynote or run a training program, I interact with the audience. It can be an opportunity for people to shine. Yet I consistently notice, when women and people of color are in the minority, as they typically are in a corporate setting, they rarely speak up. You can help people feel more confident by asking for their help in advance. I’ll find someone who I think might not speak up, and say, “I’m going to ask a question about X during the session, if you’re comfortable, could you raise your hand to answer?” This gives them time to think about their answer and the option to say no. They almost always say yes, because people don’t want the speaker to experience an awkward silence. They’re helping me get all the voices into the room, and in the process, they can shine in front of their peers.

Helping other people feel more confident is the nice thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. When everyone feels seen and heard, you produce better results, and you have more fun.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a leading authority on sales leadership and the author of four provocative books including the bestseller, “Selling with Noble Purpose.” Companies like Apple, Kimberly-Clark and Pfizer hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales organization. Her NSP is to help leaders drive revenue and do work that makes them proud.