Better know yourself and others to increase your leadership confidence and competence

Leadership is easy and even interesting to talk about in the abstract. We read stories of notable leaders generals, presidents, Fortune 100 CEOs making bold statements, skillfully navigating a crisis, and moving people to act. And we admire them.

We have an almost romantic notion of what leadership should look like and what occasions demand strong, clear guidance and direction.

For most of us, though, we’re called to lead differently heading up departments, developing new products, or getting our teams on the same page to execute a work plan. We face leadership challenges weekly, if not daily. And just because we’re not on the battlefield or the news, these challenges are still high stakes to us because people, money, and time are on the line. We know our job is to make the most of these precious resources and we want to be good at it.

Understanding the connection between leadership and confidence

Feeling confident as a leader can be elusive. You want to feel confident, but it’s hard to feel sure when there are so many variables. Confidence also takes a hit when your leadership decision or action doesn’t achieve the desired result or elicits a negative reaction. You can spin in your head, second-guess yourself, wade into blame and regret, and then eventually come back to figure out what went wrong and how to improve.

So, whether you’re in the thick of a challenge right now or know one will inevitably come, what can you do to feel more confident?

1. Define what leadership is to you

Deepen your understanding and definition of what leadership is. You might read biographies or articles by executives in your industry. You might reflect on past experiences and note times you observed good or bad leadership. Which behaviors align with your values? Which don’t? There is no one-size-fits-all definition. Leadership styles are personal and reflect your values and strengths. Get clear on what they are.

2. Better understand your strengths

Build self-awareness with a specific focus on your strengths. This starts with simply asking for and listening to feedback. Ask a range of people who know you from different roles or periods in your life. Are there any common themes? Are you thoughtful and deliberative in making decisions, for example? Or are you agile and quick to respond using your gut?

3. Help others be successful

When building our leadership skills and confidence, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being focused, even obsessively at times, on ourselves. Helping others be successful is an excellent, productive way to demonstrate leadership, learn more about what works for you, and support someone else. Helping others, though, requires an upfront conversation about what help they want or need. Leaders don’t impose themselves on their team members without engaging them first.

4. Create a network of other leaders

Build a network of other leaders at all stages of their development. One of the most useful things we can do when growing our confidence and building a strong identity as a leader is to surround ourselves with other people doing the same thing. Look at your immediate circle. If you’re light on leader colleagues and friends, consider how you might invest more time into interacting with people facing the same type of challenges. Not only will you get specific ideas for how to address them, but you’ll also start to shift and elevate the way you think.

Most of us lead in ways that aren’t glamorized in popular nonfiction. Because we don’t see our everyday selves in these leadership models, it can be difficult to translate the lessons into something practical. We must take specific, deliberate action to be skilled, responsible stewards of the people, money, and time in our care. By taking these four steps, you can quickly increase your ability to manage and excel as a leader.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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