How to be a Confident (and Competent) Leader

How to be a Confident (and Competent) Leader

Confidence is king, as the saying goes, in life and in business. Confidence is critical to good leadership, helping to push the business forward when faced with difficulties. Confidence builds resilience, strengthens relationships, increases motivation and puts the negatives into perspective. Confident leaders are sure of themselves, and their ability to make the right decisions. They stay true to their values, leading by example and inspiring those who work for them; demonstrating steadfastness and strength, even when the going gets tough.

But there is a fine line between confidence and overconfidence – a state of mind that can lead to winging it, which in turn can end in disaster. In fact, studies have shown that those who overestimate their abilities are often the worst when it comes to attainment. Making it up as you go is never a good strategy for success no matter how confident you are.

Then there are the leaders who appear to be winging it, so confident in their abilities that they give the impression of leading with spontaneity, leaving the details for those less senior. Elon Musk, the maverick CEO of Tesla and X, and former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson both spring to mind. Even if these high-profile leaders are often better prepared than we think – or that they might like us to think – their apparent overconfidence means that neither have proved themselves to be as effective as they would like.

It has been said that by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. So, is it really confidence that is king? Or is it preparation? While inspiring confidence in your decision making and your ability to lead is crucial, truly effective leaders also put the work in behind the scenes, preparing and researching to make sure that the decisions they make are based on a sound understanding of their businesses and the markets in which they are operating.

So, with that in mind, here are six steps to effective leadership:

Find and Model Confidence Through Mastery

Being confident inspires confidence in others, although confidence is not always easy to acquire, especially when times are tough. That said, confidence can be developed through practice, preparation and expertise. Learn to trust your own values and judgements. Self-confidence is really just a state of mind. Remember that people want to buy from people who are confident about the benefits of their products. Confidence is essential to sell, but also to lead people and get them engaged with the business. Model confidence and others will follow – as long as you have genuine mastery in which to root your assuredness.

Be Prepared

Be crystal clear in your thinking. You’re setting the stage not just for your success, but that of all the people around you. That’s only going to happen if you’ve devoted time and effort to be absolutely clear on the organization’s objectives, the plan to meet them, and how those ladders down to you and the rest of the business. Be rigorous.

The right preparation can remove the unexpected, building confidence and competence. Think about what you want to say, rehearse or even role play an important speech or interview or meeting. Fear of a situation, or simply the unknown, undermines confidence. Watch the speakers and leaders that you admire and try to emulate how they deliver, listening not just to the content but also their tone of voice.

Acknowledge Your Expertise

Effective leadership is about being authentic, being true to yourself and acting in accordance with your own beliefs and values, no matter the circumstances. Take confidence from the fact that the decisions you make are rooted in your mastery, expertise and competence, as well as the preparation you have done. Base your leadership on honest relationships with your staff and don’t be led off course by the expectations of others.

And manage by example. Don’t be the one who breaks his or her own rules; instead follow your words with the right actions. Often people pay more attention to what you do than what you say, so leading by example can inspire others to do the same and collaborate with each other and with you.

Be Responsible and Accountable

If you are in charge, don’t just take responsibility for the successes. Take responsibility when things go wrong. Be accountable. Don’t waste time blaming others, but instead spend time finding solutions. When you take responsibility, those who work for you will find you trustworthy and honest. This, in turn, will improve their confidence in you as a competent leader, inspiring them to also learn from mistakes and take responsibility for their own decisions.

Develop Empathy: Value Your Team and Your Customers

Understand the people you’re leading, what motivates them, what worries them and ultimately how you can support them to succeed. Being a good leader is about learning to listen. Hear what your team is worried about and listen to their ideas. Listening will help you have a better understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, making people feel more valued but also reassuring them that you are there to support them. Active listening promotes collaboration and improves communication. Empathy is crucial: Learning to empathise with those who work for you will demonstrate that you are open and willing to work with them to achieve common goals.

Communicate Clearly and Frequently

With clarity on your objectives, and what matters to your people, you’re all set to be able to communicate with precision and focus, while being able to adapt your message to different audiences. Communication builds trust and confidence. It builds empathy across your organisation. Aim to communicate transparently to prevent misunderstandings and conflict. Be clear about your objectives as this will enable you to communicate with clarity and adapt your message to different audiences.


  • David Clayton

    David Clayton is founder and CEO of corporate training consultancy True&North on six steps to confident leadership through preparedness, rigour and mastery.

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