Webinar Wrap-Up: Coaching for Confidence

Eager for answers? Jump straight to the Q&A.

If you find the leaders you’re coaching are experiencing a confidence crisis, we can hardly consider it surprising. Individuals at all levels of working life are navigating a landscape fraught with challenges and uncertainty – both at work and in the world at large. It’s no wonder many are feeling a sense of instability, and struggling to move through the world with confidence.

As coaches, helping individuals build confidence can do more than just make our clients feel good – it can deliver a number of professional and personal benefits.

In the recent webinar Coaching for Confidence: A Data-Driven Approach, experts Maria Brown, Ph.D. and Christine Chasse, M.Ed., revealed new research that shows how targeted behavior-based coaching could support more confident leaders.

Read on for highlights from the webinar, along with Q&A from our experts. To watch the full webinar or find more tools to help you coach for confidence, visit the Coaching for Confidence Resource Hub.

Does confidence really matter?

In a word: yes. Of course we might intuit that broadly speaking, confidence = good. But there’s ample research to support that. Studies have revealed that confidence is a status enhancer: people believe that confident people will succeed at tasks, and that they are more competent. They may experience more social success, and be given more control, power, and opportunities to lead.

Moreover, the benefits of confidence persist – people continue to think highly of confident individuals even when there is evidence they are less competent than originally estimated.

3 New Findings about Self-Confidence

The study we conducted looked at behavior and effectiveness data from nearly 15,000 leaders who took the LEA 360™ assessment between 2018-2024. We explored data related to both felt self-confidence – i.e., how confident a leader reports feeling within – and conveyed self-confidence – that is, observers’ perceptions of whether a leader appears confident.
The research revealed some fascinating new findings:

  1. Conveying confidence is a predictor of positive leadership outcomes

When we looked at the relationship between conveyed confidence and effectiveness, we found that the two were strongly connected. In fact, for every 1-point increase in confidence ratings we see a 0.43-point increase in overall effectiveness ratings. When we looked at the full range of competencies measured, high-confidence leaders were rated higher on 68% of them.

  1. Felt confidence and conveyed confidence are not related

At the start of the webinar, we polled the audience: do you think that a leader needs to feel confident in order to appear confident? The vote was at a near-even split, with 55% voting no. The majority in this case prevailed: our research showed practically no relationship between felt and conveyed self-confidence.
For coaches, this indicates that it’s possible to help leaders reap the benefits of conveyed confidence, even before they feel that self-assurance on the inside.
Note: this begs the question – is that a good thing? Or does working to look confident without feeling it lead to inauthentic leadership? Our experts weighed in on this question during the webinar. Hear their thoughts on the matter here.

  1. There is a specific behavior profile associated with conveying confidence as a leader

At MRG, we approach both development and research from a behavioral perspective: what are the actions a leader is taking in their work each day? And what can the research tell us about which actions they might do more or less in order to be more effective?

This study revealed eight behavior shifts (based on the behaviors measured in the LEA 360™) that could help leaders convey more confidence.

These behaviors cluster into two themes:

Know your Stuff

  • Dial Up STRATEGIC: Think ahead, prioritize what is most important, and identify the consequences; use the past to anticipate the future.
  • Dial Up TECHNICAL: Do an expertise audit on yourself; identify areas where you could brush up on your knowledge and skills and make it happen.

Step Up & Speak Up

  • Dial Up MANAGEMENT FOCUS: Increase your influence; look for opportunities where you can take the lead; take ownership: “I’ve got this” or “My department will take care of it.”
  • Dial Up PERSUASIVE: Prepare your pitch thoroughly; consider that different people are influenced by different factors; anticipate pushback and address it.
  • Dial Up DOMINANT: Constructively challenge others’ ideas; don’t back down too quickly; practice being assertive in safe settings; be a strong advocate.
  • Dial Down CONSENSUAL: Know when it is your call to make a decision; develop skills to explain your rationale to those who disagree; move decisions along quickly.
  • Dial Down Deference to AUTHORITY: Choose 1 or 2 things you are willing to “ask forgiveness for” rather than asking permission; share your insights with superiors even when they may disagree.
  • Dial Down COOPERATION: Set aside time to focus on your own priorities; practice saying no; determine what is non-negotiable and stand up for it.

Do Leaders (and Coaches) Need to Work on EIGHT Behavior Shifts at Once?

The short answer: no.

Yes, the data reveals that all eight of these are relevant to conveying confidence. But not every leader will need to shift all of these behaviors. It’s likely that, if you get a clear understanding of their current leadership behavior, and handful of these key shifts will be more relevant to their own personal development.

How do you identify the relevant shifts? A sound psychometric assessment that measures behavior is a solid starting point. MRG coaches use the LEA 360™ – the tool from which this research is derived – which measures 22 leadership behaviors from the leader’s own perspective and that of their observers (bosses, peers, and direct reports). It also measures observer ratings on 32 leadership competencies.

The resulting profile can give you and your coachee clarity on which confidence-related behaviors would benefit most from developmental work.

A Case Study: Coaching for Confidence in Action

So what does this approach look like in practice? Co-presenter Christine, a longtime executive coach, recently had a client who was struggling with conveying confidence throughout the organization – and it was start shake his superiors’ faith in him. He and Christine focused on shifting three key behaviors: dialing down deference to authority; and dialing up management focus and strategy. She shared their specific approach and the impressive results – see how the case study unfolded here. 

 

The bottom line?

Confidence is a practice… not a personality trait. By focusing on specific behaviors, you can help clients convey more confidence – and reap the benefits.

For much more detail on these findings and how to apply them, you can watch the full webinar on-demand now. And read on for even more Q&A with our experts, Maria and Christine.


Q&A with the Experts

Q: Will someone with a different behavior profile be less confident?

Video answer from Maria:

Q: I would love to hear about confidence in the context of inclusive leadership. 

Answer from Maria: This is such a timely topic. When it comes to leadership, inclusion is about giving everyone the opportunity to get involved, ensuring that people are treated with respect and fostering connection for everyone.  When we compared leaders who convey the greatest amount of self-confidence (top 25%) to less confident leaders, there was no difference in their ability to convey inclusion. It was one of the 10 competencies in which leaders who appear to be most self-confident did not have an advantage.  

This is good news because it means that leaders can create inclusive environments for their teams even if they are not conveying self-confidence. However, given the advantages that come with conveying self-confidence, a confident leader who has a goal of inclusion could use their status to get more buy-in and to influence others to be more inclusive. Whether a leader who conveys confidence decides to do this is an individual decision. 

Q: Can you still be polite while conveying confidence?

Video answer from Christine:

Q: What is the relationship between self-acceptance and self-confidence? 

Answer from Maria: Self-acceptance involves accepting yourself as you are (the good, the bad and everything in between). A big part of the assessment process is seeing yourself as others see you, which increases awareness but may reveal some negative perceptions.  

Someone who does not convey a great deal of self-confidence may need some time to process the results before accepting them. This can be especially confusing when someone is given feedback that they don’t convey self-confidence but no solution for changing things. Research such as this gives people a solution in the form of distinct behavior shifts that can change others’ perceptions of them. This can help them move to acceptance and – hopefully – action more quickly.  

Finally, people who approach the goal of developing conveyed self-confidence in an authentic way – i.e. find the way to apply the research to fit with their overall approach to leadership – will feel more authentic and greater self-acceptance. Of course, going through the motions because your coach told you to do it may not have the same result. This is why the coaching component is so important. You have the ability to help a leader determine which of the 8 behavioral shifts make sense for them and how to take action in an authentic manner. 

Q: Is there a risk to conveying too much self-confidence?

Video answer from Maria:

Q: Is there a relationship between the LEA Exaggeration scale and Self-confidence? 

Answer from Maria: This is a great question. For those of you who aren’t yet certified in the LEA, the exaggeration scale is part of the LEA Self assessment and was included as a check for social desirability bias. We have since determined that the semi-ipsative format used in the LEA does a great job of reducing this bias and the assessment yields valid results on the 22 behavioral measures without the need for a modifying index. However, the exaggeration scale, which is included in the facilitator printout but not the report that clients receive, may tap into a few things. It may reflect the extent to which a leader wants to be seen as capable or reflect a desire to be seen in an unrealistic positive light, both of which can be helpful to know from a coaching perspective. 

To address the question at hand, we looked at the data to determine whether there is a relationship between self-confidence and the LEA Exaggeration dimension. What we found is that leaders who report high levels of Felt self-confidence tend to score higher on exaggeration. This is not surprising given what we already know about the scale. However, there is no relationship between Conveyed self-confidence and exaggeration scores.  

Q: What’s the difference between self-confidence and gravitas? Or executive presence?

Video answer from Christine:

Q: Do the behaviors that convey self-confidence vary by observer gender? 

Answer from Maria: Great question! We did not look into it in this study. However, it is something we will explore as we continue to study the topic of self-confidence and leadership. Make sure you are signed up to receive email notifications from MRG so you’ll be one of the first to learn about new research about this and other topics. 

Q: Do you have suggestions for determining a leader’s conveyed confidence in addition to assessment, specifically for larger engagements such as team development?

Answer from Christine: In addition to using assessment data to determine your coachee’s level of conveyed confidence, it might be helpful to conduct stakeholder interviews or even create quick “pulse” surveys that ask colleagues to answer very specific questions about a person’s level of confidence.  Additionally, as you begin to coach them around developing Management Focus or dialing down Cooperation, for example, you’ll get a sense for how much of a stretch these behavior adjustments are for them, and whether developing them will have a significant effect on their confidence.

If completing a full 360 assessment for each individual is not practical for a larger engagement such as team development, having participants at least complete a self assessment will help identify some specific needs and provide a common language for the team to use when discussing leadership and confidence.

Q: What are your thoughts on the now debunked Sheryl Sandberg theories of “leaning in”?

Answer from Christine:  I think the biggest criticism of the “Lean In” movement was that it placed responsibility for success in work on individual women rather than equally examining the societal biases and organizational structures around them that may prevent them from thriving.

Our research doesn’t address these societal and organizational issues but focuses specifically on the behaviors related to conveyed confidence, whether the leader is male or female.

There is no doubt that women leaders and people of color encounter additional obstacles when it comes to promotion and perceptions of potential and effectiveness, but interestingly, when we examined leaders with high conveyed confidence by gender, the behaviors they emphasized were almost exactly the same.  For example, the behavior Dominant, which one might hesitate to suggest increasing for female leaders due to the risk of being seen as an uncooperative “witch,” still appears in the research as an important behavior for women to “dial up” to increase conveyed confidence (though we might suggest treading with caution and observing and reflecting with the client on how their actions are perceived).

Additionally, though men see a very slightly greater gain in perceptions of effectiveness as their confidence scores go up, women’s gains are almost exactly the same, suggesting that coaching leaders to develop the behaviors related to confidence can be beneficial to the leader, no matter their gender or the circumstances surrounding them.

Finally, our research was based on a sample of men and women from different racial backgrounds and did not consider intersectionality – although that would be an interesting follow-up as we continue to explore leadership and self-confidence.

Q:  How many sessions did you have with Andre [from the case study]?

Answer from Christine:  I met with Andre a total of 12 times over a 12-month period.

Q: Has your definition of self-confidence changed since conducting this research?

Video answer from Maria:


About the author

Lucy is the Head of Marketing at MRG. She's a passionate people person who talks with her hands even when she's on the phone. She will not rest until everyone on earth has taken their IDI.

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