Recently several articles have described the role of confidence in leadership. The articles, excerpted below, detail how too much confidence/assertiveness result in the perception of a leader as an egotistical jerk (men) or aggressive bitch (women) who does not play well with others. Definite career derailers in most organizations! A lack of confidence or aggressiveness, if perceived as shy, fearful, indecisiveness, or overly accommodating, is equally harmful to a leader’s presence and effectiveness.
Discovering the right level of confidence for you requires getting objective feedback and developing your self-awareness. As one of the authors writes, the key to learning how to be more appropriately confident and assertive is to understand the organizational context, assess your behavior, and then make the appropriate adjustments.
De-Constructing Executive Presence
Author John Beeson in this HBR article says, “executive presence is ... boils down to your ability to project mature self-confidence, a sense that you can take control of difficult, unpredictable situations; make tough decisions in a timely way and hold your own with other talented and strong-willed members of the executive team.”
Beeson asserts that executive presence can be developed — if you have “a baseline of self-confidence and a willingness to deal with the unpredictable situations that go with the territory at the executive level.” He suggests that you, “start by addressing the basics. Find a couple of trusted people who will give you unvarnished feedback…”
“Most important, find your voice as an executive: that is, identify your assets and leverage them to the hilt. Some people are naturally gregarious and can fill a room with their personality. Others…rely on their listening ability, sense of timing, and ability to maintain their composure when others get emotional.“
How to Be Assertive (Without Losing Yourself)
In another HBR article, author Amy Gallo declares, “Managers need some degree of self-confidence to be effective.” "The right amount of assertiveness, respect for others, and intelligence is what makes a great leader," says Lauren Zander, co-founder and chairman of the Handel Group.
"There's a sweet spot for assertiveness. If you're below the range, you're not going to get your way. If you're above it, you're not getting along with others," says Daniel Ames, a professor of management at Columbia Business School. “Assertiveness is not universally understood to be a positive trait. Before you make changes to your behavior, know the context you are working in. Does the culture — national, regional, or organizational — truly value forcefulness? Or do you work in a situation where a persuasive, quiet approach is sometimes more esteemed?”
Echoing a theme from my recent posts on Women and Negotiation, the article points out that whether your assertiveness will be rewarded also depends on your gender. Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, author of How Women Mean Business warns that women who ask for what they want are often described as "bitchy and aggressive." Ames agrees: "The range of latitude for women is smaller for what they can get away with," he says. Consider the implications of your behavior before you alter it.
Why Every CEO Needs a Coach
Cited in this Psychology Today article, a study published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision, concluded one characteristic of powerful and successful leaders is high levels of self-confidence. “Unfortunately, the researchers say, the higher the self-confidence, the less likely these leaders are open to advice and feedback. They also make the point that powerful leaders seldom get useful feedback in their organizations. Subordinates are loath to give bad news or critical feedback.”
The article’s main point is that lonely and stressed out CEO’s often benefit from a coach that can provide them with objective feedback and perspective. This is especially true because among all of the reasons why CEOs fail, most have to do with hubris, ego, and a lack of emotional intelligence. “Call it overconfidence or ego, but powerful and successful leaders often distrust or feel they don’t need advice from anyone.”
“Good leaders make people around them successful. They are passionate and committed, authentic, courageous, honest and reliable. But in today's high-pressure environment, leaders need a confidante, a mentor, or someone they can trust to tell the truth about their behavior. They rarely get that from employees and infrequently from board members.”