Successful classroom teachers and building leaders are not cocky or arrogant, but they do have tremendous confidence in themselves. –
Todd Whitaker, Jeffrey Zoul, and Jimmy Casas
“Start. Right. Now.”
Leadership is synonymous with confidence. Whether on the battlefield, football field, or in the conference room, the stereotypical leader is bold, decisive, and confident in their abilities. However, confidence is fickle. As a classroom, building, or district leader, our decisions are examined and questioned by many. If confidence is essential, how can it be maintained in the face of criticism?
Know Yourself-Be Yourself
If you want to maintain confidence, you must know and embrace your own identity. If you rely on the validation of others to foster confidence, you will perpetually find yourself trying to please everyone, while pleasing no one. Leaders with true confidence are authentic. They make decisions from a foundation of personal beliefs and convictions.
Dr. Brene Brown is a world-renowned researcher specializing in shame, vulnerability, and self-acceptance. Dr. Brown emphasizes the importance of “authenticity over approval”. Authentic leaders make decisions for the right reasons, not to win approval from others. Eleanor Roosevelt is credited with saying, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway.” This quote perfectly encapsulates the dilemma of leadership. Confident leaders withstand scrutiny by making decisions for the greater good, not to win approval.
Give Grace to Receive Grace
To become genuinely comfortable your own identity, you must embrace your strengths and your faults. None of us are perfect, and accepting this is essential. We don’t have to live up to the expectations of others; we only need to be ourselves. If we build empathy for ourselves, we develop compassion for others.
As a building principal, I remember thinking during a classroom observation, “Wow, it’s easy to forget how difficult teaching is.” Even incredibly skilled educators fall short; when they do, school leaders should be understanding and supportive. We should expect others to give their best effort and support students, but we can’t demand perfection.
If we as leaders want grace from others, we have to afford others the same courtesy. Leaders who emphasize effort over perfection build a collective culture that inspires confidence.
Preparation is Key
A critical key to success is confidence. An important key to confidence is preparation.-
Confidence will naturally ebb and flow. We all suffer from momentary bouts of self-doubt, and an antidote to apprehension is preparation. Preparation should precede any important meeting, presentation or phone call. I feel less anxious if I am well prepared, and I think this is true for everyone.
It is also essential to relax and focus before an important event. If you are rushing from meeting to meeting, you will be stressed and less at ease. Set your schedule to avoid high stress back to back events. A manageable schedule will enable you to relax, and ultimately retain confidence.
Allow Others to be Themselves
The most brilliant manager…somehow manages to unlock ideas in others rather than impose his or her own. –
Conductor of the British Paraorchestra
Charles Hazelwood is the conductor of the British Paraorchestra, which is composed of virtuoso musicians with physical disabilities. Hazelwood allows his musicians to express themselves as individuals, while simultaneously creating a collective musical vision. The results are stirring, emotional, precise, and robust: a symphonic masterpiece.
Hazelwood’s story is compelling, but most impressive is his ability to craft a collective culture while still allowing the musicians to maintain their individuality. He doesn’t interpret the music for them. This would disempower the individual and possibly remove their personal connection with the music. Instead he facilitates the experience, and utilizes the strengths and passions of the group to create a real masterpiece.
This approach helps to remove the pressure and friction of leadership. Educators should be led, not managed. Confident leaders set high standards and hold others accountable, but they also build a collective culture of trust; embracing the strengths and passions of each individual and using them for the collective good.
A confident leader makes authentic decisions, embraces empathy, is prepared, and builds a collective culture that is collaborative, not adversarial. None of us are perfect, but these strategies can help us maintain self-confidence and foster it in others.