Confidence, the Key to a Successful Career

Confidence in ourselves is something for which we all aspire – especially for those in a business environment, considering that it is often seen as the “Most important psychological contributor to performance”[1]; indeed, the corporate world is run on confidence in all capacities: confidence in a business’s value, confidence in an executive team, confidence in an economy and all sorts else. To this end, it was understandable that one of my executive coaching clients, a brilliant technical professional, would approach me to ask about how I found confidence in myself. It was a hard answer to give without delving into an elongated life story about growing up with two competitive brothers and having my late Father’s mantras constantly in my ear as a child – “You can be anything you want in this world with the right belief and hard work” – but I thankfully realised (before we were there all night learning about the formative years of Steven Brown) that they were asking less literally about the source of my resolve, hoping for inspiration to boost their own confidence. That got me thinking about the nature of self-belief and how it affects business potential; thus I came to this point in time, viz. penning this piece in order to explain a little about confidence as well as to find the sort of inspiring words that could help those with self-doubt to take the next steps in their careers.

The first thing anybody can learn is that “Confidence is a skill”[2] and, like any other skill, practice makes perfect. Nobody becomes a powerhouse in self-belief overnight and nobody should expect to either. If you want to become confident, work on it! That being said, there are certain steps you can take which can ease the road in building self-belief and I feel the following ideas encompass the most effective methods:

· Dress to impress. “Can clothes really improve your confidence?” I hear you ask. Not directly, but having a positive self-perception of your own attire and your outward image can help to ease you into a positive state of mind on other matters.

· Be more open in body language. A lot of research suggests that “Complex thinkers use complex hand gestures”[3] and this can be read by a respective audience. Whether you’re talking one on one or presenting to a crowd, being open in body language gives you a psychological boost whilst also making you more receptive to those listening. If you’re not sure where to start, take those hands out of your pockets, unfold your arms and stop clasping those hands in front of you. Reducing physical barriers will also improve reception; for example, remember how many times you’ve switched off at school or a conference when someone went on and on from behind a lectern? See my point?

· Keep language simple. Daniel Kahneman writes in Thinking Fast and Slow that “If you care about being thought credible and intelligent, do not use complex language where simpler language will do”[4] and there’s a reason why: people switch off.

· Develop an effective support network. The business world is understandably stressful so why go it alone? This notion not only applies to building a team around you to provide help in the working environment, but also to outside of the job: having supportive friends and family to talk you through the stressful times is equally as important as working in harmony with your peers to get the best out of your business.

· Hold realistic expectations. Everyone will tell you not to have unrealistically high expectations, but I sometimes struggle with my executive coaching clients when they are aiming too low. It’s perfectly reasonable to not set your goal as high as, for example, conquering the galaxy in year one, but it’s detrimental to not push yourself to see what you can do. You will never boost your confidence if you’re not attempting to tackle the bigger challenges; you will always doubt your abilities till you put them to the test. Furthermore, setting your goals just right rather than too low can hugely boost self-actualisation.

· Be heard. You might not always have the right idea to a solution, but so what? If you’re sharing, you’re contributing; if you’re contributing, you’re working towards a solution; if you’re helping steer your company to success, how could you not build self-confidence? It may seem axiomatic, but confidence is all about not being shy so practice that!

· Don’t expect to fail. It’s a very good idea to prepare yourself in advance for the unknown – the old “Fail to prepare; prepare to fail” comes to mind – but that doesn’t mean you should expect to fail when challenges get tough. It might have been a cheesy record, but Billy Ocean was right when he sang “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” so stick at things, keep your mind open to success and see what the future brings.

Hopefully, these ideas will get you started in building self-confidence, but it’s important to remember that everyone can always learn more so keep pushing yourself to do so. I know I’ve learned a few new tricks from conducting this research so hopefully, I can apply that to my executive coaching as I aim to stay on top of new ideas. At the end of the day though, I guess my Father was right: you can be anything you want in this world with the right belief and hard work. I know I will succeed, but let’s see if I can’t inspire the world to do the same.


[1] Jim Taylor, Business: Confidence Matters in the Corporate World, Psychology Today, (New York: Psychology Today, 2010). [2] Ibid. [3] Carmine Gallo, 5 Ways to Project Confidence in Front of an Audience, Harvard Business Review, (Watertown: Harvard Business Publishing, 2018). [4] Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011).