Confidence Is the 'Missing Ingredient' for Female Leaders

Erin Binney By Erin Binney October 3, 2018
Confidence Is the Missing Ingredient for Female Leaders

​Claire Shipman speaks at the Society for Human Resource Management's Leadership Development Forum on Oct. 2 in Boston.

​BOSTON—For HR leaders and would-be leaders who struggle with confidence, Claire Shipman has this message: You can change that. You can also help others at your organization do the same.

Lack of confidence is a critical issue for both women and men, but it tends to be more pronounced for women, said the senior national correspondent for "Good Morning America" and opening keynote speaker at the Society for Human Resource Management's Leadership Development Forum. Women tend to underestimate their qualifications and abilities, while men tend to overestimate theirs.

"Fostering confidence is really the missing ingredient for women when it comes to leadership," Shipman said.

The co-author of The Confidence Code (HarperBusiness, 2014) emphasized that building confidence requires action. "It's not just thinking we can do something," she said. "It's the doing."

That means you need to be willing to take risks and not fear failure, Shipman noted. This may look different for different people. For some, it may involve speaking up in meetings or volunteering for a stretch assignment. For others, it may mean making big decisions.

Confidence doesn't necessarily have to be big and loud. There's such a thing as quiet confidence. "Your strength might be analysis as opposed to speaking all the time. … If that is your skill, [then] own it, talk about it, make it clear that you think that is valuable."

[SHRM member-only discussion community: SHRM Connect]

Women in particular "can tap into a lot of confidence and courage when acting on behalf of somebody else," Shipman said, so tell yourself that by becoming more confident you're helping your team or your organization.

HR professionals can help develop confidence and leadership skills in others by:

Pushing them outside their comfort zones. This is particularly helpful for women in their 20s, since they are often reluctant to volunteer for stretch assignments. Encourage them early on to take risks so it becomes a habit, Shipman said.

Facilitating better meeting management. Encourage leaders to solicit feedback from the people who aren't volunteering opinions, because those people often have valuable insights.

Being thoughtful about feedback and reviews. Women interpret feedback very differently than men do. They often dwell on the one piece of constructive criticism and forget about the accolades they received in the same conversation, so think about how you're delivering the message.

"Your industry is so crucial to business right now," Shipman told the conference attendees. Whether you're acting on behalf of yourself or your team, "making HR better in an organization is incredibly valuable in this moment. The leadership team in any company needs you. So keep reminding yourself of that."

Confident Communication

Confidence is also a crucial ingredient in communication. In a separate, concurrent session at the conference, G. Riley Mills, co-founder and COO of communications skills training company Pinnacle Performance Co., identified confidence as one of the five C's of influential communication. "We appreciate people who are confident not only in their ideas but in their communications," he said.

To exhibit confidence in meetings, presenters must consider not only their words but also their delivery and body language, he said.

He encouraged presenters to establish confidence by beginning meetings with a relaxed, natural, open body posture. The feet should be hip-width apart, the chest should be open, and the chin should be level. When you assume this stance, you present confidence to your audience. "They don't know how nervous you are because they can't see it," Mills said.

Be careful of using "pacifiers," like wringing your hands or swaying, and "verbal viruses" such as saying "like" or "um," he warned. Both make a presenter seem less confident.

In addition to being confident, Mills said presenters should be:

Clear. Attendees need to know upfront what's in it for them.

Concise. "We appreciate people who don't waste our time." He advised people who have trouble being concise to "just stop talking"—if not for your audience's benefit, then for your own good. The longer you go on, he explained, the greater the chance that you will say something ill-advised or contradict yourself.

Credible. If your audience doesn't view you as credible, they won't trust you, he said, and "trust is the currency by which we do business."

Compelling. An influential communicator must inspire his or her audience not only to listen but also to take action.



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