Closing The Confidence Gap by Debbie Choy
“You need to be more confident.”
Have you heard this critique before? Perhaps it came from a boss or coworker. Or maybe you have said it to others. Confidence is one of those nebulous qualities that is hard to describe and could be difficult to change.
Confidence and Leadership Presence
Confidence is a key ingredient in what is known as “leadership presence.” According to many successful Asian American professionals, this is one term that keeps cropping up as a barrier to their success. At a certain point in their careers, Asian American professionals are frequently told that they are not getting promoted because they lack sufficient “leadership presence.” That’s the glass ceiling that some call the “Bamboo Ceiling.”
As it turns out, our perception of whether someone is “confident” stems from our interpretation of his or her body language, vocal tone and facial expressions. This varies by culture. In corporate America, here are some behaviors that are commonly interpreted as a lack of confidence:
1. Self-deprecating humor
As unfair as it is, in corporate America, self-deprecating humor comes across as lacking in confidence – unless the person using it is of an obviously high status. For instance, if Jack Welch were to use self-deprecating humor, it comes across as “accessible.” But if a junior analyst were to use the same humor, it comes across as lacking in confidence. Rule of thumb? Unless you are at the top of the corporate food chain, skip the self-deprecating humor.
2. Risk aversion
As a leadership and career coach, I work with many women from diverse backgrounds, as well as with men. What I’ve noticed with my female clients is that it often takes them a lot longer to make a commitment than my male clients. They are typically more cautious and risk-averse. I have also noticed this risk aversion in many of my Asian clients. This “fear of loss” comes across as a lack of confidence because you are unsure that you will succeed. My advice? Don’t be afraid to take risks – remember, low risk equals low reward.
3. Over-analyzing a situation (also known as: analysis paralysis)
Linked to being risk-averse is the tendency to over-analyze everything. Being meticulous and detail-oriented is good – in some situations. I know that I too am guilty of over-thinking my decisions, big and small. I have a need to plan and analyze every decision, resulting in “analysis paralysis.” However, leaders need to make difficult decisions with limited data, often quickly. Therefore, when you meet someone who is stricken with analysis paralysis, who cannot make a decision quickly, who keeps asking for volumes of data points before making each decision, do you think that this person will make a good leader?
4. Being a perfectionist
Studies have shown that perfectionism afflicts the best of us, especially women. However, this quest to be 100-percent correct might be costing us opportunities and making us risk-averse.
For example, if you are eyeing that big promotion, don’t wait until you are perfectly qualified for the job before you apply. Simply assume that it will take you a few tries before you get it – perhaps due to reasons beyond your control. So, you might as well start gunning for that promotion now, even if your resume isn’t perfect. If applying for a promotion that you’re not 110-percent qualified for doesn’t count as confidence, I don’t know what is.
What to do
So if you want to convey more confidence, what else SHOULD you do?
1. Keep asking and trying
When I work with job seekers, I use an analogy that always brings a few laughs. I tell them, “A job search is like dating. You have to keep trying. Sometimes, it’s not you. Other times, it IS you. But if you don’t keep trying, you’re never going to find your dream job.”
So, if your boss says “No” to your request for a raise the first time, understand the reasons why and ask again after you have addressed his/her concerns. Refusing to be defeated is one hallmark of confidence.
2. Invest in yourself
I have talked to many people who hire private tutors and coaches for their children, but are reluctant to invest in their own careers. My advice is to set aside time and resources each year to attend training classes, conferences, and networking events to keep your skills updated and your network fresh. With knowledge and stronger skills comes confidence in your ability to adapt to any situation. If your company isn’t willing to hire a coach to help you get to the next level, consider hiring one yourself. Career coaches are affordable enough these days that they are no longer reserved only for senior management. A career coach can also help you with your body language, presentation and communication skills.
Consider this – if you just want to complete a marathon, you’d probably be fine training by yourself. But if you want to win the Boston Marathon, hire an expert.
In conclusion, I think of confidence as a quality that can be honed and improved. Try out these tips and see if they work for you!