When Confidence Becomes a Liability for Leaders

We all feel best when we’re confident, but that good feeling can become a critical obstacle to being a conscious leader.

Our brain’s basic survival instinct makes us hard-wired to seek out pleasure and avoid pain. Both our learning and conditioning depend upon receiving love, and the hormonal releases associated with that feeling that tell our brain we want more.

We all want love. We crave love, and we don’t thrive without it. Thriving is not the same as succeeding or prospering. When I refer to thriving, I don’t mean as individuals. If you are alone and wealthy, you are not considered thriving. Thriving means excelling and achieving balance in multiple, 12 in fact, realms of your life. Those areas are Love Relationship(s), Parenting, Family, Social, Intellectual, Health, Career, Financial, Spiritual, Emotional, Quality of Life, and Life Vision.

Many of these realms rely upon how an individual relates to others, both interpersonally and communally.

The measure of leadership is shifting from successfully getting people to complete tasks to creating self-sustaining leaders who help companies achieve sustainable success, as in not merely financial success, but profit that does not come at a cost to people or the planet. This new definition of leadership is based on major shifts in our society over the last 100 years and various movements from industry to family dynamics to social justice.

The connotation of confidence in leadership is changing dramatically. In the past, there there was a hierarchical power structure, where the top of the organizational pyramid possessed the most power. Now, we are shifting to more of a shared power structure, which more closely mimics what America’s founding fathers had in mind – power to the people. This power shift is causing a lot of conflict everywhere, which we are seeing and even being impacted by down to the individual level.

When the power goes from the top-down, people at the bottom need to be able to rely on the primary leader, or a small group of leaders, to make decisions. In this structure, there is value to having confidence in a leader. Without having any power in decisions, these workers did not have to operate in, or worry about, ambiguity because there was authority. They could surrender their power to someone else and they could focus on the tactile, pragmatic work.

Leadership has been challenged like never before since failures of corporate leadership impacted every individual on the planet in 2008 in varying degrees. Social media has given a powerful voice to people whose voices would otherwise barely be heard by people at the top. What used to happen behind closed doors in a boardroom is now front and center and viral on Twitter the next day.

If you look at the corporate landscape as a whole, now that more of us are clued in to just how prevalent unconscious leadership is, and just how detrimental it can be to everyone, there is little trust that when a leader projects confidence, there is actual substance backing it up. Closed boardroom doors are now an ominous signal that decisions are being made that will adversely impact the majority and benefit a few.

The world of talent, which is essentially what makes corporations run, is realizing that bias and assumption drive division and create branding liabilities that threaten short-term and long-term profit.

Leaders are being forced to question everything. So, how can a leader even have confidence in an environment like this, where we have unprecedented events that no past corporate leaders have previously navigated, let alone have successfully navigated, in order to lead to any level of confidence? Even data and science are moving targets.

Confidence is an enigma. It feels awful to be uncertain about your ability to lead, to not have certainty that decisions and actions will have positive outcomes. It feels awful to be constantly questioned and scrutinized. The reinforcement that humans need in order to learn and grow is severely lacking.

What can leaders do to inspire future leaders – the leaders we will need to solve tomorrow’s problems?

The answer is self-love.

Traditionally, we don’t associate love with professional success, but it is quickly becoming visible as the exact void that needs to be filled in order to navigate the volatility and ambiguity being forced upon leadership today.

The difference between self-love and confidence is that confidence relies upon certainty and self-love is unconditional. Corporate training has been pushing ethics as the way to combat corporate conflicts that threaten sustainable profit. However, that effort has proven ineffective and emotional intelligence is quickly taking its place. This is because neuroscience has developed.

There have been several major discoveries the led to this shift. We have discovered:

  • The parts of the brain responsible for emotional intelligence, the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, do not fully develop until the third decade of life.
  • The brain is plastic, and parts of the brain can be developed just like muscles with the right nutrition and exercise.
  • Self-criticism, personal trauma, and stress inhibit emotional intelligence.
  • Self-love and mindfulness enhance emotional intelligence.
  • People cannot simultaneously be operating in ego while also operating with emotional intelligence – they are at odds.

Knowing this, leaders can feel certain in their ability to lead in uncertain times by making self-love and mindfulness a habit. The ego is our protection, and confidence is run by the ego while our level of emotional intelligence is directly correlated to our level of self-love. In a state of confidence, that good feeling can cause our brain to block out any new information that threatens that good feeling. This causes leaders to be resistant to feedback, input, external ideas, and change – high risks for companies today as the pace of change accelerates.

What do I mean by self-love?

I don’t mean a sexual kind of self-love, though I’m not excluding sexual self-love from self-love practices, either.

I mean the emotional self-love – the ability to fully accept yourself unconditionally, to feel worthy of love, to feel lovable, to acknowledge that you are flawed – there is room to learn, develop and grow, and that wherever you are on that journey is perfect, and to see your mistakes as ways to learn.

So many leaders are self-critical, and the outward expression of being self-critical is being critical of others. Even well-meaning, well-intended leaders are unconscious that their criticisms come through at an energetic level and a non-verbal level. Even the most well-trained leaders are trained more in manipulating tone and posture to be non-threatening, which just comes across as passive-aggressive, than in achieving an actual state of acceptance.

Leaders, if you haven’t bathed yourself in love and appreciation for yourself lately, don’t be surprised if when you try it, you feel a powerful release – like a damn breaking. You may cry, you may even feel angry for times way back in the past where you didn’t get the love that you needed. Whatever you feel – allow it! Self-love means also accepting that you are an emotional being with a range of experiences from traumatic to divine.

In the first six weeks of the Corporate Consciousness Ripple Blueprint, a year-long certification program for corporate leaders aspiring to make better decisions, expand influence, and contribute to calming the chaos in our world, participants get to learn, try and create habits around self-love using mini-practices that can be done in less than 5 minutes daily, yet have exponential rewards that transcend professional performance and success. They are completely transformative to how leaders achieve peace of mind, interact with the world around them, and shift from a paradigm of lack and volatility to abundance and benevolence.

We are currently filling our next case study to start next month. Schedule your consultation today!

Karen Huller is the creator of the Corporate Consciousness Ripple Blueprint and author of Laser-sharp Career Focus: Pinpoint your Purpose and Passion in 30 Days. She founded Epic Careering, a leadership and career development firm specializing in executive branding and conscious culture, in 2006. 

While the bulk of her 20 years of professional experience has been within the recruiting and employment industry, her publications, presentations, and coaching also draw from experience in personal development, performance, broadcasting, marketing, and sales. Her solutions incorporate breakthroughs in neuroscience, human performance optimization, bioenergetics, and psychology to help leaders accelerate rapport, expand influence, and elevate engagement and productivity while also looking out for the sustainability of the business and the planet.

Mrs. Huller was one of the first LinkedIn trainers and is known widely for her ability to identify and develop new trends. She is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Certified Career Transition Consultant, and Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist with a Bachelor of Art in Communication Studies and Theater from Ursinus College and a minor in Creative Writing. Her blog was recognized as a top 100 career blog worldwide by Feedspot. 

She was an Adjunct Professor in Cabrini University’s Communications Department and an Adjunct Professor of Career Management and Professional Development at Drexel University’s LeBow College of Business  She is an Instructor for the Young Entrepreneurs Academy (YEA) where some of her students won the 2018 national YEA competition, were named Ernst & Young’s America’s Next Top Young Entrepreneurs, and won the 2019 People’s Choice Award. 

She is board secretary for the Upper Merion Community Center and just finished serving as Vice President of the Gulph Elementary PTC, for which she received recognition as a Public Education Partner and Promoter from the Upper Merion Area Education Association. She lives in King of Prussia with her husband, two daughters, and many pets, furry, feathered, and scaly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *