How to develop Confidence as a New Leader: Use courage as a tool

“Embrace your uniqueness and believe in your potential.” I got this simple answer from ChatGPT when I asked the question, “If there were one thing you could say to humans about self-confidence, what would it be?”

The answer sounds straight-forward enough, but let’s face it, confidence can be elusive. That’s why it’s important for us to understand the mechanism of confidence and how to prime ourselves to feel it more. To gain more insight into this, I interviewed Ramona Shaw, leadership expert, host of The Manager Track podcast, and author of The Competent and Confident New Manager. Ramona works with companies helping them train new leadership. Here’s an excerpt of that conversation and her advice on how to develop your capacity for self-confidence.

Confidence from two angles

“When we think about confidence, it’s helpful to separate the internal piece from the external piece,” says Shaw. There’s internal self-confidence (i.e. how much we trust ourselves to figure something out or do a certain thing), and there’s external confidence (i.e. which comes from actually practicing something over and over). If you want to develop your self-confidence, you have to understand that the seed for its development lies inside yourself. In other words, confidence does not just “come”, you have to be willing to face a challenge so confidence can meet you where you are.

For example, I have lived abroad many times: Japan, Australia, Nepal, and now Portugal. Each time I have lived abroad it has helped me develop self-confidence because living abroad inherently presents challenges. The first time I lived abroad, I didn’t have a lot of external self-confidence because I hadn’t done it before. However, I did trust in myself that I could figure it out (it was also a combination of ignorance and naivety!). Now after having lived in many different countries, I have developed external confidence around my ability to do this and don’t get too anxious about the thought of doing it again.

But what about when you don’t necessarily trust that you can figure it out?

Image courtesty of Brett Jordan for Unsplash

Image courtesty of Brett Jordan for Unsplash

Use courage as a pushing off point

“Courage, competence, confidence: this is a really nice loop that the more that we build it, the more confidence we will gain and the less courage it will take to do things over and over again,” says Shaw. “When we only do something once in a while, we have to rely more on our internal self-confidence. This can make us feel anxious. Reframing these thoughts can help us start to develop confidence.” Namely, reframing with the concept of courage.

“It may have taken some courage in the beginning but COURAGE helps us develop COMPETENCE, and competence helps us develop CONFIDENCE.” — Ramona Shaw

Rarely are you going to feel confident when trying something new. That’s why the word courage exists. Use the concept of courage as a conceptual bridge to get you from feeling anxious to feeling confident. Shaw says, “If you use courage as a pushing off point, you’ll slowly develop the external confidence from practicing the thing.” This is where you need to pay particular attention to your inner dialog. Your ego is trying to protect you by saying things like “You can’t do this,” or “Who do you think you are?” But what’s critical here is that the thoughts in your head aren’t true.

“The thoughts in your head aren’t true; they’re just thoughts.” — Ramona Shaw.

“There’s nothing wrong with the worry, concerns, doubts you have; it’s the listening to them that’s the problem,” says Shaw. It’s worthwhile to take an inventory of your thoughts when starting something new. What are you telling yourself? How often are you listening to what’s coming up? How can you best guide that inner dialog so that you’re primed for confidence?

Image courtesy of Cowomen for Unsplash

Image courtesy of Cowomen for Unsplash

How to communicate so you feel more confident

“There’s a level of certainty that comes from having done things in the past. This develops a sense of clarity in communication,” says Shaw. But what about when you haven’t done the thing? How can you communicate in a way that builds your confidence?

“Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” — Henry Ford

In my experience helping clients develop confidence in public speaking, the biggest blocker I see is negative self-talk. For example they say, “I’m not good at speaking off the cuff,” “I can’t make a concise point,” “I don’t know what to do with my arms when I talk.” This kind of language is fine when diagnosing the area to work on, but beyond that, communicating negatively about ourselves like this gets in the way of growth.

“Abracadabra”, the word used by magicians, is said to come from the Aramaic phrase “avra kedavra” and means “I create as I speak.” We are all creating reality as we speak. That’s why it’s important to keep our language positive. Positive language cultivates a mindset of possibility, aligns thoughts and intentions, and attracts positive energy, empowering us to manifest our desired reality with greater clarity and confidence. Read that last sentence again.

If you want to develop more confidence in your life, the first step is believing it’s possible. That belief starts inside yourself, and then takes shape in the way you communicate. But even if you don’t 100% believe you can do it, it benefits you to communicate as if you do. Here’s what I mean by that.

Consider the difference between saying, “I’m going to try to do this,” versus “I’m going to do this.” The intention in the first sentence is uncertain, the second is certain. Which statement makes you feel the outcome is more likely to happen? The second statement has already set the wheels of action into motion because we aren’t using the word “try”. If you use the word “try” you’re always creating the reality of trying, not doing. I invite you to try speaking with certainty to help you boost your internal confidence. What do you have to lose?

In addition to negative self-talk, there are other verbal patterns that can get in the way of our ability to communicate with confidence.

Filler words

Filler words like um, ah, like, and you know undermine your power as a speaker and distract from your message. You can eliminate filler words if you make it a goal to do so. Working with a coach can be helpful for developing awareness of what filler words are getting in your way and developing strategies to avoid them. If you’re not ready to work with a coach, you can record yourself speaking and then use an AI tool like Yoodli to help you identify your habits with filler words. I have worked with clients and have watched them go from speaking with over 15% filler words down to 2%. That means you can reduce the amount of filler words you use too.

Hedging words

Hedging words/phrases like a little bit, sort of, kind of, and maybe also can distract from your message and make you feel and appear less confident. For example, saying “Maybe we could talk about the budget,” sends a different message than “Let’s talk about the budget” or “Shall we talk about the budget?” In the latter two examples, you’re suggesting a course of action (let’s) or making a suggestion for what to do next (shall we). On the contrary, “maybe” leaves vagueness in your intention — it makes you sound unsure of yourself. If you struggle with using hedging words, I encourage you to download my Language of Leadership PDF. It lists common hedging expressions and what to say instead.

Watch the full interview with Ramona Shaw here. You can also read part one of this interview here.

How does a lack of confidence show up in the way you communicate? To overcome the inevitable challenges in leadership, a coach can be an invaluable tool.

If you’re curious, get on my calendar with a free Leadership Confidence call today.

To your Confidence,


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👋 P.S. When you’re ready for more…

↘️ Download this free Language of Leadership PDF that will help you identify weak language habits to avoid and what to say instead.

Watch my free video, Confident Nonverbal Communication for Women.

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🗓️ Get on my calendar to see if our Art of Communication women’s group coaching cohort is the right fit for you.