We are ready to go on record as predicting that the next big “must have” trait for executive positions will be ‘confidence.’ We are hearing increasing demand for that quality from our clients: one major law firm recently revised its performance review forms for its attorneys and has substituted ‘confidence’ in place of ‘attention to detail’ in the list of qualities to be assessed in the 2011 version.
Why has confidence become the rising star of executive competencies? And what is the takeaway for those bent on career success? The current workplace is a minefield of uncertainty. Impermanence is the new normal, and anxiety about what the future holds is paralyzing decision-making. In this context, organizations recognize the need for executives who can rally others and get them to align behind a vision or strategic direction. Doing that at any time requires that people believe that an individual is worth following; in turbulent times, engaging others requires gaining their trust even when those being courted are not at all certain about the best path to take. In that situation, employees or clients must believe that an individual will make good choices and lead the enterprise to success before they will opt to follow.
The ability to engender that trust is greatly enhanced by communicating confidence in oneself. In a rapidly shifting, highly complex marketplace, where the best strategic direction may be almost impossible to identify with any certainty, a leader’s character will play a significant role in convincing others to follow. In particular, an individual who demonstrates confidence in her- or himself offers enormous appeal.
How does this translate behaviorally for ambitious careerists? We think that showing confidence is a very delicate balancing act: too little is self-defeating, while too much equates with hubris. To engender confidence, you can’t be the only one who believes in you; on the other hand, you can’t be the only one who doesn’t without looking falsely modest. We recommend that confidence be demonstrated tangentially, rather than head-on. Instead of announcing your confidence level, lead with quiet certainty. Stay calm in the face of challenge: even if you don’t know which way is the right way to go, a cool demeanor suggests that you are confident in your ability to hit whatever curve balls get thrown your way. Don’t feel the need to go it alone; it is actually better to ask others for their wisdom before announcing a course of action for several reasons. You may get valuable advice, you look strong and self-confident if you solicit the thoughts of those around you (especially those whom everyone knows will take an adversarial position,) and you generate natural buy-in when you include others in the early stages of decision-making.
Envision a head-hunter asking you for an example of a time you were perceived as confident in your current role. If you can’t think of several instances right off the top of your head, it’s time to regroup and start making memories! In 2011, confidence counts.