Need More Confidence as an Aspiring Leader? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine, 

What advice can you provide about how one can develop more confidence as an aspiring leader? 



Dear Aspiring, 

This is such a great question. I have been thinking about it all week. The answer could be an entire book—and, in fact, there are countless books on the topic. But of all the good advice out there, what to cherry pick?

Probably the biggest thing to remember is that becoming a great leader is synonymous with becoming the best possible version of yourself. It will be a lifelong quest. There is no finish line, because the approaches and details will change as you grow. You will take on more responsibility and face new challenges that will test whatever certainty you think you have acquired.

Being a leader is mostly lonely, always difficult, and usually thankless. For all the people who appreciate your efforts, you will have double that number thinking they could do a better job than you. That is just the way it is. And it is a worthy pursuit. 

Here are some ideas for you: 

Learn from past experience. Ask yourself how you have built confidence the past when trying something new. You will notice a pattern of trying and failing, learning from mistakes, and trying again. For example, think about when you learned to drive. You started slow and small because mistakes when driving a car can be catastrophic. So, to start with, choose small challenges that won’t tank the whole enterprise if mistakes are made. The more you can develop a growth mindset, stay curious, and recognize that you are on a journey of discovery, the better off you will be.

Make a study of leadership models and theories. Build a library for yourself. It is amazing what you can find used online that won’t break the bank. You might start with Level 5 Leadership from Jim Collins’s book Good to Great—but there are plenty to choose from, including Transformational Leadership (Burns), Servant Leadership (Greenleaf), the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® (Kouzes and Posner), The Social Change Model of Leadership, the Relational Leadership Model (Komives, Lucas, and McMahon), the Connective Leadership Model (Lipman and Blumen), Conscious Leadership – my current passion – (Dethmer, Chapman & Klemp), and, of course, SLII® (Blanchard).

One of the finest resources that outlines leadership competencies and how to build them is a book titled FYI—For Your Improvement. It is based on the work of Eichinger and Lombardo that is now known as the Korn Ferry Leadership Architect™. The newest version is expensive but you can find earlier versions at a much lower price. It is invaluable. It goes on and on; but with a little Googling, you can find them all and just dig in.

Sign up for any and all training your company offers. Take notes and commit to trying things that make sense to you. If and when you feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount there is to learn, keep this past article of mine, “Overwhelmed with Leadership Training Content?”, handy. 

Define what leadership means to you. What are your attitudes and beliefs about leadership? What do you think is most important for a leader to be and do? We call this process of articulating your leadership values and expectations your Leadership Point of View™. Creating one is a big job, and I can assure you it will be a work in progress as long as you lead people. But now is a good time to start. Think about the best and worst leaders you have had and make a list of what they did that you might choose to replicate or avoid. To learn more about this, listen to an interview with leadership expert Pat Zigarmi

Build self-awareness. Because becoming a great leader means becoming the best version of your authentic self, you must understand yourself. Well. What are you naturally good at? What are your frailties? What can you get better at that won’t require a personality transplant? How will you need to practice self-regulation to protect yourself and others from your weaknesses? Become a feedback junkie—ask for and listen to feedback, all the while asking yourself What if this were true? Remember, also, that feedback always says as much or more about the person giving it than it does about you. Therefore, all feedback is useful, if only to help you understand how you are perceived and experienced by others. The more you are able to understand what people say about you, learn from it, and take what is useful and what isn’t without taking it personally, the more you will thrive. If you succumb to taking anything personally, your confidence will be impacted.

Have compassion for yourself. You will make mistakes. It is the only way to learn. Share what you are learning with your team, ask them to forgive you, and explain how you will strive to be better. Ken Blanchard always says “Leadership is something you do with people, not to people.” So the more you can partner with people to be a leader whom others choose to follow, the more effective you will be. 

I am often asked if I think leaders are born or made. And my answer is always “Both.” You have clearly heard the call to serve as a leader, which is always the first step. If you end up being a great leader, it won’t be because of luck. It will be because of lots of hard work, research, trial and error, and self-reflection. There is ultimately no one right way to do it. There is a lot of guidance, but you will have to craft your own way. 

Cheers to you as you embark on your leadership journey. It will be fraught with danger, filled with learning, and, ultimately, if you don’t let yourself be discouraged, extremely rewarding.

Love, Madeleine 

About Madeleine

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response soon. Please be advised that although she will do her best, Madeleine cannot respond to each letter personally. Letters will be edited for clarity and length.

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