“Who has confidence will lead the rest,” quoted Horace more than 2,000 years old. We all know the truth behind this ancient wisdom but how do you harness its power? Rhian Morgan talks to the experts

Sometimes, as a leader, you are faced with a bad situation. Maybe you have to fire people, or have a huge project where your expertise is on the line. Or maybe your reputation is under fire, like the Prime Minister, who is facing embarrassing allegations surrounding a certain porcine incident at university.

A bad boss is memorable for all the wrong reasons. For instance, CEO of Penna HR, Gary Browning, explained he learnt an important lesson in leadership in his early career days. His usually bolshie boss shied away from the limelight, using the service lift to avoid staff when he had to announce redundancies. So Browning vowed that if he ever became a leader, he wouldn’t be so cowardly. He says he sticks to this today – making himself available even when the going gets tough.

Leadership grows from self-esteem, confidence, and being assertive, though not from arrogance, egotism, and aggression. Dr Emma Gray, a consultant clinical psychologist and service director at the British CBT & Counselling Service, who for many years has advised business people, summed it up: “Assertiveness is the ability to get what you need from a situation while what others need. It is the result of confidence; confidence is the result of self-belief.”

My tip would be that if you lack confidence, fake it. And the easiest way to do that is with body language. When I feel nervous, I emulate how a person I respect would act in the situation. It’s a skill that can be taught. Ian Burke, the director of totaljobs.com, explains: “Unlike charisma, which we’re often told is innate, business confidence is definitely something you can learn and build into your leadership and decision-making. The skill of being assertive is absolutely crucial: communicating your opinions, standing up for what you believe in but listening to others in a fair, balanced manner, too.”

Here are a few leaders’ top tips:

The Psychologist: (Dr Gray, thebritishcbtcounsellingservice.com/dr-emma-gray)

• Cultivate your self-belief; that you are capable, creative, smart and deserve to be listened to and respected. A sense of calmness and confidence will result from this and assertiveness will naturally follow. Whilst you are trying to cultivate self-belief, behave as if you have it.
• Express your beliefs, ideas, and needs simply and clearly, without unnecessary explanations, elaboration, caveats or apologies.
• Take your time, pause, breathe, and do not respond to a sense of urgency to do things quicker. Few things benefit from being done faster, apart from maybe the 100m sprint.
• Listen carefully to others, do not interrupt, have the ability to wait your turn and resist the urge to push yourself forward.
• Resist negative comparisons with others, as these will unsettle your self-belief. Try either to stay fully focused on yourself and your goals and achievements, or ensure the comparisons are comprehensive i.e. includes both those who you perceive as ahead of you and those who are behind.
• Do not personalise the actions of others, as this will undermine your self-belief. Bear in mind that we are all internally focused, and so what others do and say tells you about them, it is not necessarily an evaluation of you.


The Author and Educator: (Fiona Dent, Ashridge Executive Education at Hult International Business School, co-author of The Leader’s Guide to Coaching & Mentoring. ashridge.org.uk)

• Think about your behaviour when interacting. What impression are you having? Do you look people in the eye? Do you sound and look confident about what you are saying? Do you believe in what you are talking about, are you knowledgeable about the topic, and are you generally prepared for any interaction you are involved in?
• Authenticity is important. Be knowledgeable and honest when communicating with others.
• Have self-awareness. Understand your strengths, weaknesses and development needs.
• Plan and prepare so you can communicate in an effective and confident manner.
• Recognise the importance of investing time and energy to build your reputation and develop your credibility.
• Know not to become arrogant. Like many of the key skills for success as a leader, overdoing it in any one area can lead to the strength turning into a weakness.


The Jobs Expert: (Ian Burke, director, totaljobs.com)

● The skill of being assertive is absolutely crucial – communicating your opinions, standing up for what you believe in but listening to others in a fair, balanced manner, too.
● Creative thinking is important. Can pursuing a different, unexpected avenue bring you a successful result?
● Draw on your experience and don’t be afraid to go against the grain. You’re in your position to lead – so lead.


The Matchmaker (Genevieve Zawada, CEO of Elect Club, relationships expert, and commercial trainer. electclub.co.uk)

• I practise what I preach. Even if your decision is not the best one, you need to be assertive and confident in your delivery, so others have faith and confidence in your ability to lead.
• If you make a mistake, own up to it, learn from it, and move on.
• Those who sit on the fence and make no decision, or even worse pass the decision making down the line and then tell someone off when it goes wrong, should not be leaders.


The Trainer (Chris Wood, CEO of national training company DTL, whose clients include major utilities and construction companies. developtraining.co.uk)

• Shy, timid and hesitant leaders are rare but hubris in others can be equally inappropriate. Take two apparent extremes. The reported delivery of a management decision with either confident, measured, sangfroid - or wild, dictatorial, aggression - could, in either case, be viewed as ‘assertive’. Obviously there’s an enormous gulf between the two. Assertiveness needs to be managed even under the most pressing of conditions.

The Innovator (Max Wiseberg, Inventor of allergen barrier balm HayMax, haymax.biz)

• Leaders need to be both assertive and decisive. How often do you hear people saying “I tell it how it is” when they have offended or upset someone? It is important to avoid confusing aggression, or bullying, with assertiveness.

• Be inclusive. Clearly articulating your point of view and what you want from other people whilst enabling them to be included in the process helps people to listen to, contribute to and accept your ideas. And this helps them to want to be involved. Different decisions require different strategies, but inclusive leaders are comfortable to seek knowledge and advice from people within their organisation.

• Confident leaders make decisions quickly, even instinctively, but not impetuously or impulsively. They will carefully consider the potential effects of their decision and decide on a course that will work best for their business and their team.