Hi. It’s May Busch and welcome to sunny Arizona.

I’m here at Arizona State University where I am an Executive in Residence and Senior Advisor to the office of the President, and I’m also Professor of Practice at W.P. Carey School of Business, the business school at ASU.

Today’s topic is about confidence.

This is such an important feeling that we want to have, isn’t it?

All the coaching work that I do, I find that often, if not always, comes down to confidence – and to some extent gaining clarity – but really confidence is at the core of what is going to turbo charge us on our trajectory. It’s also something that, if it’s lacking, can hold us back. So it’s worth spending a little time on this.

I would just say that there are various aspects of confidence that I think are worth covering today.

  • First is feeling confident, being confident.
  • Second is about displaying confidence.
  • And then third, my favorite, is about giving other people confidence.

So, let’s take each of those in turn.

Feeling confident

In some ways, that is the Holy Grail for so many of us. And feeling confident though, I just want to say, is not binary in my book. It’s not either/or, you either have it or you don’t. No, confidence, feeling confident is on a spectrum. There’s a spectrum of confidence.

This reminds me of taking that statistics course so many years ago, and please don’t ask me any more beyond this because this is all I’m going to remember, but I remember clearly talking about the degrees of confidence and I loved that idea. The same holds true for confidence in our lives.

Another way to think about it is the Eskimos seem to have over 100 ways to say the word ‘snow’, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. And so it’s not snow or no snow, it’s lots of different degrees of snow. The same thing with our confidence.

And within the spectrum of confidence, I will just highlight two pieces.

First is, it’s important to have enough confidence for the thing that you’re doing. And it’s possible to have too much confidence, to be over confident, just as it is possible to be under confident. So, having enough confidence for the task at hand is what you want to focus on.

I think of it like looking at the battery life you have left on your phone or your laptop. You just need to look at that and see, “Do I have enough battery life left?” i.e. confidence for the thing I want to do, whether it’s a conference call at the office or timing yourself at the gym, whatever it might be.

The other aspect is, what type of confidence do you need?

One is very situation specific. So for example, I might be going to a meeting with other people and they might say, “May, you are the expert responsible for knowing everything in tab J, so when it comes to tab J, you’re on”, and I need to be confident about tab J, so that’s very specific. Fine.

Another kind of confidence is about something more holistic. For example, in that same meeting analogy, that would be like saying, “Okay, I may not be the expert in tabs A through J but I do have the complete confidence that walking into that room, I can handle whatever comes my way.” So that’s a different kind of confidence.

I will just say that earlier in my career, that first kind of confidence was really key and as I became more senior, it became that second kind of confidence – that I could handle it, even if it meant… if challenged on something that I might have to say, “That’s a really good question. Let me come back to you after doing some research”, but I can do that with confidence.

Right, so that’s about feeling and being confident.  The second piece…

Displaying confidence

This one is interesting because we all know that sometimes we can feel confident yet not come across that way, not display it, which is a shame so we need to work on that.

Other times, we can be, or we know people who are displaying lots of confidence but they don’t actually feel it inside. Sort of like those swans gliding across the water so serenely and calmly when, underneath, they’re paddling madly or at least we think they are, right? We’re not under water looking at them but we’re guessing that they are.

It’s really this ability to display it no matter what’s going on under the water that really helps us. Not that we want to be an empty suit or anything but it’s helpful to display.

It also helps others because we’ve all been in talks where we’re the audience and somebody is speaking and we can tell that they’re just so nervous and we actually, our heart goes out to them. We want them to feel confident, we’re willing them to feel confident but how they display affects how we feel in the audience too.

So, just know that when you’re displaying confidence, you’re actually helping other people and sometimes that helps us to be more confident in displaying confidence.

On this displaying confidence, I would highly recommend the Ted Talk by Professor Amy Cuddy. She’s a Harvard Business School Professor and she’s done this wonderful Ted Talk about your behavior actually affects your mindset in terms of how confident you feel, so check it out.

The third piece is about…

Giving confidence to others

This is so important in my mind because it helps us get out of our own way when we focus on other people.

Not only that, giving other people confidence and helping them to be confident is a gift. It’s the kind of gift that attracts other people to us and that is a very positively reinforcing cycle that is very empowering and, frankly, gives us a lot of confidence. We feel good when we give a gift like that to other people.

I’m reminded of Paolo Scaroni, the CEO of Eni, the largest energy and oil company in Italy, when he talked about his own litmus test for himself as a leader and a manager, which is, “Do people leave my office feeling more positive than when they came in, no matter what the message is that I’m delivering to them?”

And so this kind of gift of confidence is the same. It really is important and it feeds into the whole, what I call, the reciprocal wave or reciprocal flow of confidence in the universe.

So, what I’d like you to do is get out there and catch this wave of confidence – whether you:

  • Start the wave from the top: feeling confident, displaying confidence and giving others confidence, or whether you
  • Reverse the wave: start by giving other people confidence so that you can be better at displaying and feeling it yourself

Whichever way you go, get out there and get in the flow of confidence.