How to look and act confident – Part 2

Image matters. We’d love to be able to say that it doesn’t, but it does. And yes, the way a person carries him or herself can directly communicate their internal level of confidence. In the last post, I made the case for how to “act” more confident. This post is how do you “look” more confident.

How to Look More Confident

Looking confident has as much to do with how you carry yourself as it does with what you wear. Harvard professor and researcher, Amy Cuddy, has done some fascinating research around this topic of looking confident. Specifically, what she found was that by assuming a “power pose” prior to and interaction, one could actually “feel” more confident. And it’s not just feeling more confident, the levels of testosterone would actually increase. What is a “power pose” you might ask? Any pose that gets you “as big as possible” according to Dr. Cuddy. Spread your arms out. Prop your feet up on your desk. Put your arms behind your head. Widen your stance. In other words, the opposite of squeezing yourself tight and getting yourself small.

So, got a big meeting? Practice power poses first.

clownSecond, consider what you are wearing. Dressing confidently matters. This one is a bit more tricky and subtle. As a general rule of thumb, consider both the situation and your own style. The sweet spot is finding a way to be professionally appropriate for the situation and to demonstrate some level of boldness while doing it. A client of mine shared with me this fantastic story. One of her mentors early on in her career was a female partner at a large consulting firm. This particular consulting firm, like many consulting firms, had an unspoken conservative uniform. Everyone essentially wore the same consulting attire. This partner would abide by the uniform (professional) but always had one thing on that thumbed its nose at the rigidity (bold). Sometimes it was a bright red scarf. Other times it was a pair of bright aqua heels. Whether it was the chicken or the egg is unclear, but people in the firm saw her as confident and bold.  She had executive presence with clients and partners in the firm.

So, what am I saying? Go out and get that bold pair of shoes you’ve been wanting. Buy that new suit. Get that bold tie (I’m on a pocket square kick at the moment). Get your hair done differently.  Get one bold element to bump up your confident appearance.

Professional + Bold = Confident

Combining professional attire with some boldness gets you confidence.  And confidence gets you closer to executive presence and that gets you more opportunities.

Get posing and get shopping. Who can argue with that (spouses excluded of course)?


How to look and act confident – Part 1

Sometimes there is no level of coaching or inspiration to get someone to feel more confident. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how hard you search, it’s just not there. It’s in those situations that the only recourse is to just fake it. In other words, how do you look and act confident even if you don’t feel confident?

How to Act Confident

OfficeKing256Acting confident can be taught. I’m not saying it will feel comfortable or natural, but acting in ways that appear confident can be done. Simply put, acting with confidence is all about leaning forward (or leaning “in” if you prefer) versus leaning back. Like most sports, it’s about being on your toes and not on your heels. So how do you do that? The best way is by asking great questions. In fact, as I have made the rounds with senior leadership teams across various industries and organizations, they all tell me the same thing. The repeatedly say, “When we are looking to promote someone to join the senior leadership team, we are not looking for the smartest or loudest person in the room. We are looking for the person who can ask the best questions. The individual who can lead the group by asking the right questions so we can make better decisions.”

Sounds simple right? And yet, I have not once, not ever, met a person who lacks confidence who asks good questions. In other words, when our confidence is shaken we tend to shut up. Not good. So, here is your prescription for “confidence-boosting” questions that you should start asking:

Clarifying questions – when your boss asks you to do something. Never say, “o.k.” Always, follow-up with clarifying questions. Questions like:

  • “Can you give me an example of what you might be looking for? Has something like this been done before in a way that you thought was exceptional? ”
  • “What would success look like for you on this project?”
  • “In your mind, what is the priority of this project? High? Low?”

Strategic questions – when in meetings, ask questions to get the group to think differently about what you are talking about. Think SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). Questions like:

  • “What would success look like for this initiative? What would a perfect outcome be?”
  • “How is this going to impact our customers (or other stakeholders)?”
  • “Do we have the right resources to get this done? If not, how can we get the right resources?”
  • “Are there any threats to this that I / we aren’t thinking about? What could derail this?”

Needs questions – when interacting with your boss, peers or customers, be sure to clarify what they need. Questions like:

  • “What do you need to see come out of this (project, initiative, work, etc…)? What would you like to get?”
  • “Where would you like to go over the next year (or more)? What are your goals?”
  • “How can I help you? What do you need from me?”

The beauty of these questions is multi-faceted. First, it allows you to get the stuff you really need to do your job more effectively. You learn what’s important, what others expect and how to prioritize your time. Your work anxiety drops and your efficiency and effectiveness goes up. Second, you help others improve their thinking. By asking these questions, you force others to think more deeply about what they are saying and asking for. This outcome takes a wonderful page from the “therapy playbook” by helping others get clearer and more insightful. Third, people see you as proactive, adding value in every interaction, making others smarter and moving with confidence. That’s a win, win, win (and maybe even a few more “wins”).

Kelly’s Story

Kelly started as an H.R. consultant for a high tech company about 10 years ago. Admittedly, she knew nothing about technology or the business she was entering into. She lack knowledge and expertise, but Kelly didn’t lack confidence. She started inviting engineers and others out to lunch to pick their brain about the business and the industry. She asked question after question of everyone she talked to. Soon Kelly was hired in as a Manager, then promoted to a Director and rapidly ascended to Chief People Officer of the business. She leap-frogged all of the other H.R. professionals in the organization because of her ability to ask fearless and strategic questions. Questions like, “How is this going to affect our customers?” “How will we make money if we make this strategic shift?” “How will this move affect our risk exposure?” Notice the number of H.R. specific questions? That’s right – none. Today, she is routinely courted by other CEO’s for her ability to not only run H.R. effectively but also her courage to ask the right questions of her peers in senior leadership meetings. She makes everyone smarter. In recent years, her company has acquired a few other companies as it has continued its growth. During the last round of acquisitions, Kelly headed up the financial piece of the acquisition, not the CFO. She was quizzing and challenging the CFO of the acquired company. “You’re the Chief People Officer?” he asked her. “Yep,” Kelly responded without blinking an eye.

If you want to start acting more confidently, start by asking great questions. I promise you’ll notice a difference in no time.

Next up: we’ll talk about how to look more confident. Image matters. It may be time to go shopping…


How I’m trying to get my confidence back

stepping-off-ledgeI’ve got a confession to make: I’ve lost my mojo. You probably noticed that it has been a few weeks since my last post. You’d be right. It’s tough to talk about how to get your confidence back when you’ve lost a little bit of it yourself. So, here’s what happened. Over the past year, I, with the help of a production company, have been working on a TV show based on tackling workplace dysfunction. After crafting what I thought is a pretty awesome “sizzle reel” (a 3 minute promo for the show) the folks at the production company pitched the concept to  every possible network that might be interested over the last two months. The result? A big fat goose egg. Nothin’. Nada. Zilch. While I had convinced myself that rejection was a very real possibility, I gotta tell ya, I’m bummed. I had no idea that I had put so much time and mental energy into picturing this project coming to fruition. Now that it isn’t happening, I feel like I’m just going through the motions, a bit lost and a bit shaken.

Ever felt like that?

So this post is going to be different than most. It is going to be a funky combination of self therapy (workplace therapist, heal thy self), a deeper look into my quirky brain and hopefully, something for you in the process (even if it is simply pure entertainment).

Reclaiming My Inner Superhero

superheroAs a little kid, I always had a fascination (bordering on an obsession) with superheroes. On any given day, you would have probably found 6-year old Brandon donned in some costume with an accompanying cape.  Oh, and I didn’t just stay inside with my costume.  Oh no.  I would routinely walk over to neighbor’s houses, ring the doorbell and announce my presence in grand superhero fashion when they opened the door.  From Superman to Spiderman, any superhero with superhuman powers were on the menu.  After all, what could be cooler than having some combination of super powers and using those to stop the bad guys and save the world?

About a week ago, what I realized is that the best way for me to move past this disappointment and reclaim my spark is for me to dig down deep and reclaim my inner superhero. And since superheroes embody the confidence that all of us want (and I particularly need at the moment), below is my self-prescription.

  1. I need to remind myself of my mission. Superheroes are mission-focused. That’s what makes them superheroes. They are focused on some altruistic goal greater than themselves like combating some nasty bad guy bent on total dominance or defending a group of innocent people that can’t defend themselves. That description sounds like the workplace to me. I think I’ve got my mission back.
  2. I need to remind myself I’m “super.” Superheroes come to embrace their superpowers and hold a deep belief that they can get it done. That includes flying over buildings, smashing boulders, talking to whales and even spinning webs. They believe they can do what others believe can not be done. I gotta get that back.
  3. I can’t give up. I need to regroup to my bat cave, lick my wounds and come back smarter and stronger. What’s true about superheroes is that they always get knocked down. But when was the last time you saw a superhero just hang up their cape and say “you got me. I’m done.”?  They always persevere. It doesn’t mean they aren’t scared. Their courage and belief in themselves trumps their fear. I’ve already started my inventory of what I’ve learned from this failure so I can come back faster and stronger the second time around.
  4. I need to keep moving. There is no superhero syllabus or step-by-step play book. Superheroes don’t wait for someone to tell them what to do. They are proactive not reactive. They are always moving forward. As much as I don’t want to, I’ve got to get more irons in the fire and keep moving forward. Fake it ‘til you make it.

Can you see the similarities between superheroes and confident people?  Ask yourself, of the four items above, which do you possess today.  Get your inner superhero working for you.

One final confession, I’m one of those people that when I sleep, it is not unusual for me to have the same dreams over and over again. Some of these reoccurring dreams are probably not uncommon like the nightmare that I’m back in college and have a final in a few hours only to realize that I haven’t attended class all semester.  Yuck.  Other dreams are probably a little less than common. One of my more quirky reoccurring dreams is that I’m like the superhero from the cult-classic TV show from the early 80’s “Greatest American Hero.” If you know much about that show, the main character is given a superhero suit that bestows on him special powers when he wears it but he can’t always get the suit to cooperate.  In my reoccurring dream, I suffer the same frustration.  I know I’ve got superpowers and use them just fine early in the dream but when I really need them later in the dream, I can’t get them to activate.  That’s usually when I wake up, frustrated and stuck.  Not this time.

I’m feeling better already…


There is no confidence fairy

confidence-next-exitBecoming confident is a tricky thing. If we were gut-level honest, most of us would say that we want to feel more confident. We would also probably say something like this, “when I finally get recognized as _____ (talented, a leader, an expert, etc…), then I’ll feel confident.” Can you see the irony? How will others see you the way you want them to until you embody that confidence? Waiting for someone to anoint you with confidence is not a strategy. There is no such thing as a confidence fairy.

The confidence fairy

Years ago, I once waited for the confidence fairy. I had just completed my MBA and I was poised to begin my career as an executive coach and, unbeknownst to me, a workplace therapist. I was ready to be seen as an expert. So there I sat, waiting. Waiting for someone to tell me I was talented. Waiting for someone to tell me I was ready to work with senior leaders. Waiting for someone to tell me I was an expert. Day after day, night after night I waited for the confidence fairy to anoint me with some fancy title and the accompanying confidence that I so desperately wanted. But to my surprise, she never came. “Well of course she hasn’t come,” I told myself after some reflection. I hadn’t turned X age yet. Like losing your first tooth, she must surely come when you hit life milestones. After all, confidence and expertise must surely be tied to age. And so I waited and waited some more.

And then it hit me. She was never going to come. And more importantly, I was the reason why I wasn’t an expert. I was the one standing in my own way. Ultimately, I had the power to change the situation. I waved the wand, declared myself an expert and the rest is history.

Are you waiting?

Are you waiting for the confidence fairy? Are you chasing external designations in your search for confidence? I can’t tell you how many Ph.D.’s I’ve met that don’t have an ounce of confidence. They thought that by acquiring such a prestigious designation that confidence and respect would surely follow. Not so much. Others aren’t chasing designations; they are chasing titles and promotions. Are you waiting for that promotion to finally feel like you arrived? I’ve had hundreds of conversations that involved this trap. Stop waiting, grab the wand from that negligent fairy and anoint yourself today. Here’s how. Answer the following questions and hold onto your answers. You’re gonna need ‘em for the next step.

  1. I’m good at _____. What are you good at? Make a list of what you know deep down you are good at. Go on. Don’t be shy.
  2. I’m great at _____. Go back to your “good” list and circle the items that you are fantastic at; the areas that you are an absolute rock star.
  3. I’m an expert at _____. Here’s where the rubber hits the road. What areas are you near the top of your respective cohort at? What are you an expert at? It doesn’t mean that you have to be the very best, it just simply means that you know you belong in the same conversation as the very best.  Whether its financial statement analysis or making gourmet lunches for your kids, nothing is off limits. Note: aspirational expertise counts. Maybe you aren’t an expert yet but you are on your way. Go ahead. Call yourself an expert. You’ll be there in no time.

Claim your expertise

Got your lists? Good. Here’s the hard part. Go to your professional or personal bio (corporate bio, LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile, your website, etc…) and declare yourself as an expert. No excuses.  One important point of clarification: shying away from your expertise is not humility. It is a fear of standing in the light and claiming who you are and meant to be. Claim your expertise boldly. The world is ready and listening.

Several months ago I was working with a colleague and I stumbled onto her bio on her firm’s website. I was stunned. Here was this accomplished professional and yet her bio was a shy, timid and awkward 13 year old. It mumbled about the kinds of projects she does and the typical clients that might hire her. Her bio was embarrassed to be read and you could feel it. It left you with the impression she was a junior associate in her firm and not someone as senior nor as accomplished as she was. The next bio that I read was that of one of her colleagues. His bio spoke of his expertise and was quick to claim his unique strengths and areas in which he is world class. His bio had a boldness and confidence that I’m sure he possessed in real life. My colleague’s bio unfortunately mirrored her own lack of confidence she puts on display at work and at home on a daily basis.

Stop waiting for the confidence fairy and get moving.  You’ve got the wand. Wave it and who knows? You might just get that confidence and recognition you’ve been looking for. It was there the whole time you just didn’t know it.


5 things confident people DON’T do

hidingBefore we go too deep into what you should be doing to get your confidence back, I would be doing you a disservice if I didn’t start with what you should stop doing. To that end, for this post I will be taking off my therapist hat and snuggly putting on my executive coach hat. As any executive coach would tell you, a good executive coaching process will highlight what you should “start, stop and continue” doing. The following list illustrates all of the behaviors that confident people simply don’t do. If you see yourself doing any of the following, stop it. ‘Nough said.

5 Thing Confident People Don’t Do

1. Trying to say things perfectly in meetings – confident people don’t try to find the perfect words. They care more about the message, thought or question they want to convey rather than the perfect timing or wording of that message. Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: executive presence, bringing your ideas to the conversation and having a “seat at the table.”

2. Looking for the perfect answer – confident people have been around the block long enough to know there is no such thing as perfect information nor a perfect answer. They don’t waste their time overworking things to get it perfect. Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: Time, time, time. Being told you work “hard but not smart.” Leaders and / or  your boss label you as “over your head” and unable to handle anything more complicated.

3. Obsess about what others think – confident people don’t stew over what others think about their appearance, style, approach, etc… Here’s the subtlety with this particular behavior. The difference between a confident person and a narcissist is that confident people do care about what others think and take that into consideration. They do adjust. What they don’t do is obsess to the point they are rigid and locked up. Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: A feeling of rigidness and awkwardness around others. A noticeable delay between every question asked of you and your response (after all, processing all of the various combinations of possible responses to choose the perfect one takes time). Others generally find you creepy, uncomfortable and wound too tight. Not good.

missing-something4. Wait for others to ask their opinion / be noticed – Confident people are comfortable providing others information that may be useful to them without being asked. They are not afraid to let others know what they need, want and expect. As a result, they usually get what they need, want and expect. Sounds pretty good, huh? Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: Not getting what you need, want and expect. As a result, you generally experience deep feelings of resentment on a daily basis toward your boss, spouse, coworkers, etc… You silently punish those around you for not reading your mind. Generally others find you to be unpleasant to be around. You may even suffer from isolation and career / relationship stagnation as a result. Yuck.

5. Judge themselves – Finally, confident people don’t give themselves daily beatings. That’s not to say they don’t acknowledge their mistakes, missteps and weaknesses. Rather, they spend more time mentally lingering on their past successes and future goals. As a mentor of mine would say, confident people believe they are “enough in their limitedness.” Cost of doing this confidence-busting behavior: lingering on one’s mistakes, missteps and weaknesses only fosters hesitation and a general reluctance to take action. You may find yourself paralyzed to move forward for fear of making a mistake. The other bonus that comes along with this unfortunate behavior is that if you are hard on yourself, you are hard on others. You judge other’s behaviors, words, expressions, appearance, etc… When others are around you, they can feel your judging eyes piercing their skin like long sharp needles. Sounds like a party.

There you have it: the 5 things that confident people simply don’t do. If you see yourself doing any of the five behaviors, your prescription is clear. Stop it. Knock it off. Cease and desist. No mas. The end.

The End.


“I’ve lost my confidence”

lostconfidence_graphic317Theresa was a workplace rock star. For over a decade, it seemed like everything Theresa touched turned to gold. Her golden touch became legendary within her organization. Her company would routinely parachute her into a turnaround situation and despite the odds, she would somehow find a way out. That summed up the first 15 years of Theresa’s career.

Then one day, it all changed. During a particularly challenging turnaround situation, things blew up on Theresa. She, for the first time in her career, had failed. Now, to any objective outsider it was obvious that the failure was not the result of Theresa’s actions. The failure was simply a product of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But to Theresa, the defeat was devastating. That failure lingered with Theresa to the point that for the last 5 years, she hasn’t been the same. She questions her own decisions. She is reluctant to speak up in leadership meetings and fears that she has fallen out of favor with corporate. Theresa has lost her confidence in a big and bad way.

This month, we are going to address this debilitating dysfunction: “I’ve lost my confidence.” The side effects can be catastrophic. When the voice inside our head that tells us we can “do anything” hits the road for a long vacation, self-doubt creeps in and camps out. Others sense there is a new resident in town and over time our brand changes. We may end up with any or all of these unfortunate labels:

  • He / she lacks confidence
  • He / she doesn’t have executive presence
  • He / she over thinks things
  • He / she is not decisive
  • He / she works hard but not smart
  • He / she is not strategic
  • He / she is not leadership potential
  • Who is he / she? I’ve never heard of them…

There are numerous events can send our confidence packing. Consider any of the following “confidence busters”:

Laid off – We are let go for perhaps the first time in our careers. The message is clearly sent that we are no longer wanted.

A new role – We are put into a new role that is so foreign to us that we over think things in an effort to not screw up.

A new boss – We get a boss that fails to appreciate us like prior bosses. For the first time we have a boss who seems to see all the things wrong with us versus all the things that are right.

A new company or industry – We join a new company or industry that is completely outside of our comfort zone. Toto, we aren’t in Kansas anymore.

Battle scars – Like the story of Theresa, we are too close to an explosion and the PTSD has caused us to second guess ourselves in every way.

This month, we are going to take on this debilitating dysfunction. I have one simple objective, to get your mojo, your groove, your swagger, your (insert confidence word here) back.

Time to give self-doubt the boot and bring confidence back from its long hiatus.