Who makes a bigger impact on your confidence: You or your boss?

Confidence at workWe often think of confidence as something only we can individually control. However, that view misses a great deal of context, as it’s not just how you feel about yourself, but how the world responds to you that can shape how optimistic, how confident you actually feel.

For years, leaders have blamed women’s lack of confidence as a reason they don’t get ahead. However, this misses the greater question: ‘How confident should anyone realistically be when they see very few people ahead with whom they identify?’ or seen from a slightly different angle ‘How are young men buoyed about their own chances for success when they look up the ladder and older versions of themselves?’

Clearly your boss doesn’t drive your confidence on their own, but they do play a very big part in how encouraged you’ll feel and how much trust you put in your organisation. This came up when interviewing Kainaz Gazder, an Indian VP based in Singapore at a major FMCG, for my latest book, ‘The Con Job: Getting Ahead for Competence in a World Obsessed with Confidence’ . She observed confidence just wasn’t an issue for many of the women with whom she’s worked.

However, as I listened to Gazder, I realised part of that may come from the interest she takes in preparing her team members via their skill level and competence. Gazder, and some of the other nearly 40 leaders I interviewed from a dozen countries make the biggest difference by putting in the effort r to build the confidence of their teams. Gazder wants their confidence to be a natural extension of what they know. She explains: I’ve never heard a woman criticised for lack of confidence. I’ve only heard her criticised as not having confidence in her plans or recommendations. Then it’s obvious to everyone that it’s our job as senior people to support her. If that’s how she’s come across, we haven’t done our job in supporting her well enough.

Her approach is a notable departure against many employers who invest less time, support and resources in someone they deem ‘under-confident’ or not ‘high potential – a common criticism many of my coaching clients have initially faced. Gazder clarifies: We have to dig deeper to understand why she doesn’t have confidence in her plans. Does she not understand the financial projections well enough? Has she not had the right training, is her manager not supporting her? That deep dive is vital! It’s all about the ‘Why, Why, Why?’ If she got to that point in her career but didn’t have the confidence she needed, clearly we did something wrong. Gazder wants everyone in her team to be so competent that confidence is simply a by-product of their knowledge.

Seeing leaders take responsibility for building the confidence of their direct reports, and trying to understand where any gaps originate is refreshing.  It’s where the smartest leaders are heading in this brave new work world we’re entering. Engaging your boss on how they can help you become more confident doesn’t sound straightforward but it’s just part of what should be an ongoing discussion. Try out statements and questions like:

  • ‘I’d like to stretch myself towards doing X – how can you help on that?’’
  • I’d love to understand more about Y, and think it would help the work I do for the team. Can we have a meeting to go over a few of my questions?
  • ‘That last meeting where we both explained Z issues to the audience grew my knowledge and even my confidence. It would be great to do more of those events with you.’

Working on bridging that gap between the way you feel about your confidence and the confidence your boss can instill in you is vital as otherwise too many smart women work below their potential. As much as it costs them, personally and financially,  the rest of society feels this loss of competency too. As the OECD, in their Closing the Gender Gap report of 2012 explained: ‘If for the individual women, it means a lifelong income penalty, then for us collectively it means a lifelong efficiency and productivity penalty.’ Let’s overcome that penalty by involving your boss, and their efforts, in helping grow your confidence.

About the author

Suzanne Doyle-Morris PhD is the founder of InclusIQ and has been helping women working in male-dominated fields get the careers they want for nearly 20 years. She is also the author of ‘Beyond the Boys’ Club’ and ‘Female Breadwinners’ and her third book, ‘The Con Job’ is out now.


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