Confidence is the key to your career success

I recently attended a Coaching and Cava networking evening, hosted at International House London and the theme of the evening was confidence.

I have always associated confidence with being the loudest voice in the room. I instantly conjure up images of gregarious, larger than life characters who embody all that confidence is. I enjoy their animated panache, their ability to win over a room and ultimately, I try to copy them. I feel this is similar for many people, after all the importance of being a confident person is stressed from a very early age.

Coaching and Cava Networking Evening

During the evening I heard from three brilliant speakers and much to my surprise, each one challenged my preconceived notions of confidence.

I left with three burning questions:

1. Am I as confident as I perceive myself to be?

2. What does it really mean to be a confident person?

3. Going forward, how do I manifest confidence within myself?

Idea 1: Confidence, once learnt, is something you grasp within you.

Niel is a tall, brunette haired man. Smartly dressed, he wears a crisp blue suit, red tie and black shoes that look fresh out of a box. He speaks clearly, animates his speech with his hands and humours the audience with his natural wit.

Niel is a confident man with a confidence mantra: “look the part, know the part, act the part”. Early in his career as an English teacher, Niel realised that when he wore a suit, people took notice of him. They listened attentively, respected his presence and believed in what he had to say. He found that if he looked the part, he was already 20% there in convincing them that he was a confident man who knew precisely what he was talking about. As a result, the suit has formed part of Niel’s identity and he challenged anyone to catch him not wearing one.

I had always believed that confidence was something I drew out of myself. Something I mustered up when the moment demanded it. What if instead, confidence was a skill I put on, a type of superhero cape or a confidence mask?

One thing is for sure, since that evening I have spent my evenings window shopping online for a suit.

Idea 2: Confidence is a skill you use to win people over, it is a skill for personal gain.

Claire is the Principal of Quest Professional, the business training college I work for. I know Claire personally and have seen her speak to a crowd on several occasions. I know Claire is confident and yet tonight she takes a little longer to ease into her speech. Perhaps because me and a colleague of mine had put her name forward to do the speech in the first place, and now, here we sat just three rows from the front cheering her on.

Amusingly, Claire speaks of her younger self as the tall, shy girl who never dreamed she would one day be the Principal of a college. So where did her confidence begin to grow? For Claire, the secret lied in her passion for languages. She went on to study French and Spanish at University and eventually taught English as a second language. Now in the position of ‘teacher’ Claire felt she could impart her knowledge to others. Seeing them learn and develop built her confidence and she emphasised that to “be passionate, speak with conviction and the more you do it, the easier it gets”.

Now working for Quest Professional, Claire knows that growing in confidence is vital for your career. She challenges students to break out of their comfort zones and enjoys seeing them progress from shy A Level Leavers into confident young professionals.

Selfishly, I thought of confidence as a skill to be used for personal gain. A skill needed to “win friends and influence people” as Dale Carnegie’s infamous book is titled. Alternatively, confidence can be a skill we impart to others, and ultimately, by doing so we become more confident ourselves.

Idea 3: You are either confident or shy, end of.

I have met Ola briefly at a previous Coaching and Cava event, she is one of the organisers. From what I remember she is kind and welcoming, in a quiet and reserved kind of way. Her colleague James is much more animated and energetic. In these two brief meetings with both Ola and James, knowing very little about either of them, I have automatically assumed one is shy and one is confident. Decision made.

That was of course, until Ola got up to speak.

She is neither loud nor animated, and yet her tone is assertive, she stands tall and knows exactly what she is going to say — even when speaking in her second language. Interestingly, she confronts the very assumption I have already made about her, “why do some people think I am shy?”. Ola, a Psychology graduate, has reflected on confidence in depth. Some of her friends view her as the kind of girl who loves to read, alone in her room. At the other end of the spectrum, some see Ola as extremely outgoing, the first to grab the mic at karaoke or take to the dance floor. How is this possible?

Ola went on to explain that it is because she is an ambivert, neither introvert nor extrovert, instead she sits bang in the middle of the scale. Sometimes she is quiet and prefers her own company, but at other times she is the life and soul of the party. What Ola really wants to communicate is that being an introvert doesn’t automatically make you shy, much like being an extrovert doesn’t inevitably make you confident. Ola is self-assured, and her confidence is authentic. She doesn’t have to force herself to be loud or gregarious or animated. She is confident because she has manifested this within herself.

In one evening, my understanding of confidence had been torn apart. Ideas I had built up since childhood, completely deconstructed and re-built.

The answers to my questions?

1. No, I am not as confident as I think I am. Much like Niel, I think I don my confidence cape when necessary, but I’m not the first to the dance floor and I will never take to the karaoke mic.

2. Developing confidence as a skill is a journey, unique to the individual. It presents itself in all kinds of ways, none of which are right or wrong, simply different.

3. Instead of attempting to be more gregarious, louder and comically animated, I will manifest authentic confidence by taking on challenges that force me outside of my comfort zone.

The Coaching and Cava networking evening was once again, a revelation. Next time I am required to present my most confident self I shall do so in my own way and yes, I will probably do it in a suit.