Confidence is a sly fox but she can be tamed – how to build confidence


Confidence is that sly fox of an inner voice that sometimes works to undermine us. We outline how to build confidence and outfox that fox

My inner voice is called Desdemona.  She is a buxom, beautiful brunette who gives me a chronic inferiority complex and irritates me wildly.  I think she might be Nigella Lawson.  Why she is living rent-free in my head I have no idea, as in real life I would give this unsavoury saboteur a very wide berth indeed. I could wake up feeling ten foot tall and bullet-proof, pumped for public speaking, or ready to take on my Board and by lunchtime, thanks to her, I’d be pondering whether to use my spoon for Ben & Jerry’s or for digging my eyeballs out.

How to build confidence and outfox that inner voice

Ok, I know Desdemona is just my subconscious managing my confidence levels so I don’t get too brave and do something stupid.  She is constantly downwardly tweaking my sense of self-worth and my sense of capability when I want it upwardly tweaked! But I have found a way to outfox her, and here it is: the strategies for how to build confidence.

A sense of self-worth determines if you think you are good enough FOR it. 

When self-worth is low, we doubt our right to be at the table and compare ourselves to others. This can be set off by the smallest thing – being omitted from an email trail or meeting invite often makes people feel undervalued and unworthy when it’s almost invariably a simple admin error.

A sense of capability determines if you think you are good enough AT it.

We humans are our own worst critics and most of us have a strong awareness of our gaps. I bet if I asked you to write down 5 gaps, weaknesses, or development areas you could rattle it off in a heartbeat.  If I asked you to write down 5 positives, would it be as easy?  This is normal.  Most people start from a place of scarcity (I don’t have enough) rather than one of abundance (I’ve got more than enough).

As a result of these two sliding scales, your confidence is highly mercurial.  It moves all the time.  We feel confidence when our capability meets our worthiness. We are certain of our right to be at the table AND the value of our contribution to the conversation.

Most leaders that I work with are in the B-Suite – the middle to senior levels of management.  As such, we are daily faced with situations that challenge our confidence levels. We walk into a room with  more senior people and suddenly feel not so capable. Or we listen to an inspirational speaker and walk away feeling less worthy.

Next time your confidence goes off track, try to spot which scale is off track – your capability or your self-worth.  When they are both high, you are confident.  When one is out, you’ll end up behaving in one of the following three ways – so keep an eye out for these behaviours and then you’ll know what to do to course-correct.

  • Caught in the headlights: When you don’t know what they’re all talking about (can you hear your sense of capability dropping like a stone?), but you do know that you deserve to be in the room (you were on the invite: someone wants you there for a good reason), play the ‘pretend I know nothing’ game. Turn up your gravitas to convey a strong sense of self-worth and buy yourself time to build your capability up to speed.  It’s ok that you don’t know everything – yet.
  • Brash: this often happens when you join an impressive high-performing team – you know you’re capable, but feel intimidated and unworthy. A common reaction is to casually drop in their knowledge, experience or credentials on a regular basis to prove their worthiness – which makes you come over as brash so control that tendency and get to know your new peers instead. Once you spot they are simply human, your sense of self-worth will come flooding back!
  • Brittle: when feeling neither worthy nor capable, we can become brittle in our delivery. This is the worst state for leaders – your low confidence is right on the surface now. Lean on your coping mechanisms quickly, and most importantly ask for help. Even if the last thing you feel like doing is reaching out when you’re brittle, this is absolutely the first thing to do. The longer you leave it, the more brittle you’ll become.

If you’re suffering from severe lack of confidence and especially over a protracted period of time, this could be a symptom of something else and you should seek the advice of a medical professional.  But if you’re experiencing the mercurial ups and downs that I’ve described here, then being conscious of what’s out of balance between the sliding scales of self-worth and capability will ensure that you can do a quick fine-tune as an ongoing strategy for how to build confidence.

About Rebecca Houghton'

Rebecca Houghton, author of ‘Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership’ ($29.95), is a Leadership and Talent Expert and founder of BoldHR. Rebecca builds B-Suite leaders with C-Suite impact by working at an organisational, team and individual level. For more information about Rebecca can help your team visit

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