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Leaders Overlook This Critical Skill

April 24, 2017 in

…With hard work, with belief, with confidence and trust in yourself and those around you, there are no limits.” – Michael Phelps, 23 time Olympic Gold Medalist

The greatest athletes in the world and high performers all talk about how self-confidence is the key ingredient for success. Confidence does in fact play a critical role in performances and a person’s effectiveness. According to Stajkovic and Luthans’s review individual performances significantly improved by 28% due to increased self-confidence.3

A common misconception among professionals is that leaders are born with self-confidence. People believe leaders bolster certainty in those they lead. Due to this assumption, the act of instilling confidence by those in charge is overlooked and often not addressed at all. Hollenbeck and Hall found that those in leadership roles had not viewed confidence instilment as a key task, thus they did not act on carrying it out. Their work with executive M.B.A students uncovered that most employees had never come across a boss who enhanced their self-confidence. We might ask ourselves, do those above us instill confidence in the work that we do? Do you, as a leader, deliberately build confidence in your people?

A successful leader is someone who manages one’s own self-confidence and influences others (1) through persistence, adaptability to situations, environment alertness, assertiveness, energy, and goal driven action.2 It’s important that those in leadership positions understand self-confidence and its development in order to then elicit confidence in their counterparts within their organization. There are four general sources of confidence:

  1. Past/personal experiences
  2. Vicarous experiences
  3. Persuasion
  4. Physical/emotional state (1)

Knowing where confidence comes from allows us to operationalize it and enhance it. Past experiences is the most influential source of confidence because it is in reference to a person’s own mastery. In addition, persuasion is the next source that will be addressed below due to its direct accessibility to leaders.

Past/personal experiences

Players of the New England Patriots (five time Super Bowl champs) have repeatedly expressed how their leading quarterback, Tom Brady gives them confidence. During the end of a few of their close games, Brady has reminded his teammates that they’ve been in similar positions before and have come out on top.1 Bringing up past successful experiences in the moment, is a prime example of how, arguably the best quarterback to ever play the game, enhanced his and his teammates confidence in a moment when they needed it the most. Super Bowl LI is a recent illustration of confidence displayed by Brady and the New England Patriots as they beat the Atlanta Falcons in overtime after a 19-point deficit going into the fourth quarter.

If you find yourself lacking confidence heading into an important task, such as a critical sales pitch, begin by writing down three successful sales pitches you’ve done in the past. Identify what you did really well that was directly within your control, not just the outcome. Examine how you prepared for that meeting and what feedback you received. Mining these past experiences will help you prepare for your upcoming meeting and build your confidence in being able to deliver a compelling pitch.


Have you ever felt really confident about a critical decision you’re about to make when someone expresses some doubt and immediately your mind is flooded with thoughts of doubt and your confidence dips? This is the power of persuasion when it comes to confidence. While others can impact your confidence in what they say to you, your internal dialogue can also powerfully influence your confidence. When you’re working to meet quota you might tell yourself, “I have a plan and the skills in order to reach my goal.” Leaders can and should consider the power of persuasion in enhancing confidence by enforcing their perceived belief in the employee’s capabilities to execute a task. A leader in this role can be viewed as a coach. An effective coach is one who helps others see their progress, guides and encourages their counterparts to value self-improvement over solely focusing on the outcome. A leader might tell their employee, in regards to a production unit deadline, “I believe in you. You have exceptional organizational skills and diligence in order to see that all moving parts are completed when needed.”

Confidence is a choice, but like most things in life that have a huge impact, it requires effort and dedication to enhance it and sustain it. To be confident one must take control of their thoughts. Leading by example requires effectively managing one’s confidence.

Your organization’s performances could depend on your deliberate and consistent effort to instill confidence in those you lead. Happy confidence building!
If you want to learn more about how you can build confidence in yourself or your team feel free to reach out to HigherEchelon.


  1. “Self-confidence and Leader Performance”, Organizational Dynamics, George P. Hollenbeck and Douglas T. Hall, 2004
  2. “Self-Efficacy and Leadership Effectiveness: Applying Social Cognitive Theory to Leadership”, Journal of Leadership Studies, Michael J. McCormick, 2001
  3. “Social Cognitive Theory and Self-Efficacy: Going Beyond Traditional Motivational and Behavioral Approaches,” Organizational Dynamics, Alexander Stajkovic and Fred Luthans, 1998