Successful leaders are confident leaders but confidence in itself can be an elusive quality; something that is seemingly easily shaken or eroded. Many people, whether they are in leadership positions or not, often talk about the need to ‘be confident’ but it could be more helpful to think about what confidence really means. The word confidence derives from the Latin word – fides – which means to ‘have faith’ or ‘trust’. I’ve always loved the word because when you are confident, you have faith or trust in something whether that is in yourself, your team, your employees, or a higher power for example.

The opposite of faith is certainty

Curiously, and counter intuitively perhaps, I recently watched two religious leaders on TV ask the audience what they thought was the opposite of faith. My answer like most of the audience was doubt. They suggested it was absolute certainty or predictability whereas doubt was a close relative of faith.

This fits neatly with thoughts around the development of quantum thinking that I discussed in an earlier post. Quantum thinking, which embraces uncertainty and ambiguity recognises the need for leaders to stay longer in the ‘not knowing’ state. As a leader, you need to have faith and trust in yourself and your people, and be comfortable with the idea that it’s OK not to know. You can be confident without necessarily knowing the answer; what you could call ‘intentional ambiguity’.

The problem is, as human beings, we don’t always feel comfortable being in that state. Our sympathetic nervous system which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response is a wonderful mechanism when we need to run from predators or a danger to life, but it can actively hinder us in decision making in the corporate world when fear takes over and erodes our faith or confidence.

Regaining faith in yourself

What is important to remember, is that with awareness we can change our state and it is why EQ (or emotional intelligence) is so critical in leaders and why mindfulness – an awareness of what is occurring in our body mind system – has real value in today’s accelerating business world. The simplicity of literally taking a mindful breath can disrupt fearful thoughts, create some space, and restore ourselves to a more present trusting state, or begin to have faith again; faith in yourself and faith in the people you work with.

Which brings us back to confidence. As a leader, you can’t control everything but by having faith and trust in the people you work with and the ability to create and live with a certain amount of intentional ambiguity, you can effectively manage both external pressures and the pressures you place on yourself. It’s confidence…but just by a different name.