When I coach women in leadership around the popular subject of confidence, one thing that stands out in my mind is that the culture tends to think women have a confidence deficit when compared to their male counterparts. But the research data actually shows that while men start off confident in their early 20s as graduates and women much less confident in their 20's, by their 40's; women and men's confidence levels begin to even out and with men's confidence dropping off later in their career and women's confidence increasing with age and experience.
In my work with female leaders I've always had the perspective that confidence comes with experience and practice and it's a good idea to trust the timing of things and let things develop naturally. Perhaps it's not actually a good thing to be confident before you have a reason to be and maybe men are super self-confident too early on before they have the experience and knowledge to really back it up. Women in leadership have been found to have some great leadership commonalities like empathy, being able to draw from diverse viewpoints and be adaptive to change and by focussing on their strengths they have invented new business models, disrupted industry and made massive profit in the process.
Julia Boorstin the author of the book When women lead, interviewed and examined 60 successful female CEO's and researched the academic data to find confidence is not always a good thing. In fact sometimes not knowing what to do and being able to share in the vulnerability of that with your team can be a valuable way to earn trust and activate feedback from your team. Boorstin writes about how once-underestimated characteristics, from vulnerability and gratitude to divergent thinking, can be vital superpowers in todays business climate—and that anyone can work these approaches to their advantage.
The leadership landscape these days is complex with economic instability, environmental disasters, inflation and recession all impacting on business, people and organisation. The globalisation we are currently in is somewhat unprecedented and a natural response to this uncertainty calls for a turning down of confidence and working with others to gather valuable information that can lead to wise and ethical decisions and better outcomes for all. Sitting with the challenge and the difficulty can offer unique insights that can't emerge from inviting too much ego confidence early on.
Cognitive Psychologist Therese Huston talks about being able to finesse your confidence by dialling it up or down depending on the situation you're in. When dialling it down, she talks about opening up, staying receptive and being curious and mindful about the necessary information you're gathering. Then once you've made your decision and you're pushing for a specific agenda you need to dial that confidence back up to be clear to lead through the change.
We live in a rapidly changing world where men have traditionally lead with confidence from the get go and without sometimes having all the information needed to sustain in an ever changing world. With women increasingly taking on roles of leadership we can see from the data that they are drawn toward purpose driven projects in social and environmental enterprise where they feel connected to making a meaningful difference.
Women have unique gifts to bring to the leadership landscape and the research reveals they are significantly more effective than their male counterparts but don't always report or project that through what is traditionally seen as confidence. But by not doing so they remain more open and connected to the constantly changing environments and feedback from the people they are working with. This lack of confidence is a great quality for navigating the uncertainty we continue to face.