If you’re a leader who needs to influence others, perhaps taking part in key committee work, working as an advisor or program leader, or if you’re a leader who in these unprecedented and challenging times, is keen to develop your confidence, influence, and gravitas, take a look at these tips to support you moving forward.
Check out our ‘What kind of leader am I?’ journaling workbook, designed to help you build a greater understanding of just who you are as a leader and how you can make the biggest difference to those around you.
Focus on your strengths
People are very good at focusing on those things they perceive to be weaknesses – easily finding reasons why they are the ‘imposter’ in a leadership situation, rather than someone with diverse skills and experience. Women are particularly good at doing this!
To build your leadership confidence and influence remember you have history! This means you have unique experience, skills, and traits to offer a committee, leadership, or senior position. Building on your strengths is far easier than instantaneously changing perceived weaknesses. Your strengths have undoubtedly made you good at what you do, so can also support you in making a valuable leadership contribution more widely.
For example, perhaps you feel you don’t have pensions knowledge or experience, so you can’t possibly sit as a trustee on a pensions committee – yet perhaps you have an analytical, logical mind and are deeply passionate about the long-term financial and economic stability of communities you are connected to. These traits and interests could mean you are good with numbers, able to see trends in complex data, are interested in financial investment strategies or education and training for young people. These are excellent qualities for a pension’s committee trustee or a role such as a bursar or treasurer.
The key is not to dismiss something because you think you lack knowledge about the subject (knowledge can be acquired), but to see how your strongest skills, character traits, and interests could add value.
At Notebook Mentor, we believe that leaders can emerge at any time in any host of different situations. You don’t have to carry a big title or pay packet to lead with confidence and influence. Leadership is about mindset – it’s about how you show up and how well you can garner followership.
Understand, build on and nurture ‘intelligence’
Think of ‘intelligence’ as the foundation of your sound personal judgment – both about tasks and people. If you want a richer definition take a look at Characterscope. The team has a proven character strength and intelligence approach to leadership development.
Everyone has leadership strength in the following areas – if you want to build your leadership confidence and influence, learn about your intelligence; build on what you are already good at, and nurture and develop just one gap.
- Political intelligence
Having the ability to tune into what is going on in any given situation – to read a room and judge or spot any ‘political’ agendas around the table is an example of ‘political intelligence’. This isn’t about big ‘P’ politics. This intelligence allows you to remain open and interested in others, knowing quickly who has what power and why. Handling political issues diplomatically, confidentially, and tactfully is also part of this intelligence. Think of it as leadership intuition and instinct or your ability to test and appreciate an atmosphere.
In leadership, committee, or board situations using or developing this intelligence can help you check and test when to speak out and when to show restraint or hold back for the right moment.
TIP: If you think you need to develop your political intelligence, next time you are in any kind of leadership situation, project meeting, or committee meeting, take note of what you think is going on around the table – particularly what is ‘un-said’. When the meeting is over, check-in with the chair or another colleague and understand their read on the situation. Was your intuition correct? Keep practicing this, keeping a learning journal as you go.
- Analytic intelligence
To influence other leaders, a committee, or board, it’s important to have a good grasp of data or insight that matters. This means nurturing your intellectual smarts or analytic intelligence. The more you can absorb, prepare, and present data effectively, the more confident you should feel about marshaling your arguments and recommendations.
Leadership groups and committees need good data and insight on which to make their decisions. Thinking about the possibilities that data provides and having insight or detail at your fingertips can often provide that all-important check and balance that helps a group or committee draw its conclusions and make sound judgments. You must have a strong command of the issues relevant to your practice or organisation and how these issues link to matters you are discussing.
TIP: If you think you need to develop your analytic intelligence spend some quality private time, reading about or trying to understand a complex problem. This problem could be about anything – something from work, something in the news, something from education. Grapple with the problem, looking at it from a variety of angles. Try to summarise the problem into simple themes. Think about how you might explain this problem to a layperson who may know nothing about it. Doing these things helps build your analytical problem-solving power.
- Emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence [EQ] or empathy goes hand in hand with political sensitivity and requires you to know yourself as well as have a keen interest in understanding others. Psychologist Daniel Goleman once summarized EQ as the coming together of several leadership traits – coaching, pacesetting, being participative, affiliative, visionary, and directive. Great if you are good at them all but why not start by just focusing on one or two!
Taking a coaching approach to influencing others and being participative are enormously helpful skills to develop for any leadership or committee situation. On a committee, tuning into the team dynamic is key. Being able to restrain and control your own emotions can help you land with greater gravitas and impact. Tuning in to the needs of others shows personal restraint, respect, and sensitivity. These are highly sought-after skills.
Be self-aware, read others, coach others, and put yourself in their shoes to manage dynamics and avoid issues before they arise.
TIP: If you think you need to develop your emotional intelligence, find someone you trust and work with them to see the world from their point of view. Ideally, find a topic on which you disagree and spend time building rational arguments as to why they might be right about the subject, and you might be wrong. In doing so, you develop the mind-muscle to see things from another’s point of view, show restraint, perspective, and empathy for others’ opinions.
Understand, build on and nurture ‘character traits’
Think of your character traits as those things relating to you as a human being. The Oxford English Dictionary defines character as ‘the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual’. Think of character as qualities that define you – your energy, focus, and dependability – all that we value about each other.
Everyone has leadership strength in the following areas – if you want to build your leadership confidence and influence, learn about these important character traits; build on what you are already good at, and nurture and develop just one gap.
Courage is a wonderful and often misunderstood character trait and is about bravery, self-belief, and risk-taking. Having the courage to show restraint and stay silent (truly listening to the views of others) is, however, as important as having the courage to speak out. Self-belief might be as much about letting go of leadership control as it is about having a grip on something or taking charge!
Having courage on a 1:1 basis with other leaders or key members of a committee, or board, like your boss or the Chair, is where you will probably need to employ courage the most. Courage will help you question, probe, and challenge appropriately. You will also need bags of good judgment and perspective if for any reason you are in disagreement with others.
TIP: If you think you need to build courage and self-belief start by acknowledging where you have been successful in the past – it may take you some time but it’s guaranteed that you have been courageous historically. What did you do – how did it feel? What were you thinking at the time? Note these thoughts down in a journal.
Now, think of a safe environment (perhaps working with a team you trust) and consider ways in which you might speak out or be brave about taking a stand on a topic? Test your courage to stay silent with someone you know you often disagree with. How does it feel to truly listen to what they have to say? Ask others to let you know how you came across in any given leadership situation.
Leaders, committee members, and chairs need to ensure that people have a say about the subject or problem they are working on. A good leader will work hard to ensure that when decisions are made, everyone is on-side and agreeable (or if this is not possible, people have at the very least felt genuinely heard).
For this reason, leadership groups, committees, and boards can take longer to make decisions, or in reverse can demand immediate responses from management, because there is an inherent risk in not making a decision quickly. Either way, if you are exposed to this type of situation you need a considerable amount of personal patience. There will be periods when you’ll need the patience to re-prioritize all that you are doing to respond to leadership, committee, or board needs, as well as the patience to revisit and revise what has gone before.
TIP: If you think you need to develop the trait of patience, next time you feel compelled to speak out or interrupt someone with your strongly held view – don’t. Wait a further 5 minutes before you have your say and test how it feels.
Resilience is all about your capacity to bounce back or recover quickly from setbacks. To spring back you need a degree of elasticity, learning from the situation such that in due course you have the resilience to try again or give something else a go. Resilience is a trait that can be learned by reflecting on your circumstances and the thoughts and feelings that arise as a result. By noting your reactions to things, you can work on strategies that help you adapt and adopt different approaches in the future.
As a leader you are likely to be taking some risks – if you take risks then an occasional failure should be an expected component of your reality. When things don’t go to plan leaders can often bear the brunt of any push back. This is particularly the case when you might be personally exposed or at risk because of a decision you have led on. If an attack is directed your way you have to see beyond the personal to the underlying cause and come back and re-establish, if necessary, the strength of any former relationships.
Take a look at our ‘Not getting on with someone at work‘ Notebook Mentor. It’s a great journaling tool to work through when you feel your resilience is being tested because of a challenging or broken relationship.
TIP: As human beings, we are incredibly resilient – probably more than we realise. Rather than beating yourself up for what you didn’t do, didn’t say, or didn’t achieve, instead congratulate yourself on what you did get through, what you did communicate, and what you did achieve.
Resilience is borne from knowing that what we are doing is making a difference and invariably when your self-belief and sense of accomplishment are high, you will be influencing others confidently and changing the landscape. When you feel your resilience is being tested, take the time to analyse your thoughts and feelings, noting down what you have learned about yourself as a result.
Arguably a competence or skill – strong communication skills are essential for leadership, committee, or board work. Learn to communicate with clarity, precision, and confidence. Do not use ten words when four will do! Leadership groups, committees, and boards should be too busy to have time for procrastination! Make sure your verbal and written communication is clear, simple, and to the point. Always listen and check back that you have been understood or understand other’s views.
TIP: If you think you need to develop your communication skills, practice every opportunity you get. Rehearse what you want to say with friends or loved ones, seeking their supportive feedback. Video yourself and listen to the playback. Watch non-physical cues – facial expressions and non-verbal mannerisms.
Most of all remember that the most powerful communication comes when we talk authentically and from the heart. This doesn’t mean being overly emotional or banging the table (these are often big distractors to effective communication). It does mean speaking with others as if you are in an everyday conversation – heartfelt, open, and passionate. Good communication does take practice and not everyone is comfortable in more public situations. Take your time, seek out support from those you trust, and build gently and slowly.
- Networking and collaboration
And finally, as a leader, committee member, or chair it’s worth remembering that working with others (particularly those with diverse and different views to your own) is likely to yield better results, than hanging on to the notion that you have all the answers. This means – networking and collaboration are essential to leadership confidence and influence. Get known, know others, network physically and digitally, and stay connected.
TIP: If you think you need to develop your networking and collaboration skills start by thinking about who would benefit from the interaction and what time you have to commit. Networking and collaboration take time. Then follow the advice below…
Build your network
If you want to define networking, you might say it’s the process of connecting to other people to build high-quality professional or social relationships. Developing better networks can help build leadership confidence and influence by exposing you to other leaders – seeing difficult styles at play. It creates opportunities to collaborate. Watching a role model who has already been successful in ways you would like to be, is a great boost, helping you learn, receive useful feedback, and perhaps grasp new opportunities and challenges.
Think about your network. Who is in your network today? How could you develop or extend your network to help you learn from those around you who might have a bit more experience than you?
Done well, networking can widen your horizons, help bolster confidence, and provide an opportunity to build long-term trusting relationships with key people of importance. Find out more and check out our blog post on networking to find a new job, or just to build your connections.
In summary, to build leadership confidence and influence think about these 4 key elements:
- Focus on your strengths
- Understand, build on and nurture intelligence
- Understand, build on and nurture character traits
- Build your network
Elisa Nardi is a lay non-executive director of the BMA and Founder & CEO of Notebook Mentor – personal journaling workbooks to help ordinary people ‘manage develop and be happier at work’.