I speak and coach often on the importance of maintaining a professional image. I also wrote about it in a recent CPA Insider blog, How Professional Is Your Personal Packaging? One element that is fundamental to our professional image is our overall confidence.

Confidence is a leadership attribute that I often hear up-and-coming leaders wish for more of, and their peers or partners frequently express a desire to see more of it exhibited. But most people don’t know what they can do to have and demonstrate more confidence. In this blog, we’ll look at three aspects of confidence and steps you can take to build and exhibit it.

  1. Be confident in your actions or abilities – start with being confident in yourself and your skills, judgment and decisions. This requires that you master the skills in the areas important to you and expected by others, such as technical or industry knowledge for your particular discipline or position. Developing mastery involves putting in the time and effort to develop the skills and experience needed and may include attending educational courses, reading trade publications, blogs and books, and seeking out mentoring or coaching from someone who has already mastered the skills you are seeking. Gaining a certain level of mastery does not mean that you will always have all the answers or that you will always make the right decision. Being confident means that you are willing to acknowledge when you don’t know (right now) and committing to use the tools and resources you have available to you to secure the answer. It also means you might make mistakes. Approach those mistakes as learning opportunities to grow and develop versus as a permanent failure.
  2. Quiet negative voices - confidence in yourself also includes recognizing and managing your negative thoughts. Often these thoughts are projecting negative outcomes that aren’t based on reality, but instead based in fear – fear of failing, looking bad or not being “enough.” Your negative thought patterns may be triggered by comments or reactions from others, too, and it’s important to become good at taking the feedback that is appropriate and will help you get better and leaving the other comments behind that are more about the other person’s personality or self-esteem. To overcome these negative thought patterns, feed your thoughts with positive affirmations daily and consider creating a mantra to squelch any negative thoughts, like the Little Engine That Could, “I think I can, I think I can, I know I can, I know I can.”
  3. Project confidence to others –confidence means that you believe in your abilities and that others trust or believe in your abilities, too. You have to feel confident first and do what it takes to truly develop your skills and abilities, but then you have to demonstrate them to others. Your level of confidence can be demonstrated in many ways, including your behavior, your body language, how you speak, and what you say. Some examples of how you can display confidence – and engender it from others – include:
  • Speaking up and sharing your view or perspective, asking questions, providing alternatives to a situation or solution, or offering suggestions for making something better. Some are afraid to speak up for fear they will say something wrong. Meanwhile, their silence often raises more questions about their abilities than speaking up and sometimes being off base might
  • Sitting up straight (even on the edge of your chair in meetings!), ensuring that you can be heard and your volume is appropriate for the size of the audience and making eye contact with those to whom you’re speaking
  • Saying “thank you” when complimented or “I’m sorry” when you make a mistake (and asking what you can do to make it right)
  • Doing what you think is right and living your values even if your position may be unpopular

When you practice these ideas, you will inspire confidence in your peers, partners, clients, and others. And gaining the confidence of others is one of the key ways to drive change and achieve success, both personally and for others.

Building confidence is readily achievable and builds on itself as you take steps to develop it. Celebrate achievements – big and small – and then identify what actions you can take next to continue on your confidence-building journey. What actions are you going to take to build your confidence today?