Women into leadership — harnessing the three Cs of confidence

Thu 23 Sep 2021

Women into leadership — harnessing the three Cs of confidence

There are many traits necessary to lead, but confidence is perhaps the most important for women to have, and to use as a lever to overcome the barriers on their way to the corner office

By Murielle Gonzalez

Everyone can be a leader. Leadership is a people's relationship — a skill developed while engaging with one another. Men and women at work exercise leadership every day. Whatever the job function or grade, everyone has the potential to influence and become an effective leader. 

However, the leadership challenge for women is twofold. On the one hand, cultural and structural barriers set by the 'standard' male leader behaviour within organisations stop women from reaching positions of decision-making and influence. On the other hand, women cannot progress on the career ladder without self-awareness. 

In most corporate cultures, women are guided to assume the masculine stereotype of a leader, yet they are penalised for being aggressive or not kind. It's a no-win situation for women.

Exhausting and as unfair as it is, women in this situation end up ignoring the one trait that perhaps can make the difference — confidence in themselves. Nod if you ever wondered whether you have leadership material or struggled to see yourself in the high-rank position you aspire to be. 

The 2015 report Moving Women Forward into Leadership Roles by KPMG supports this view. It concluded that despite progress for and by women leaders in recent years, what holds women back is the “lack of confidence, encouragement, connections or opportunities from childhood and later".

Confidence is 'queen'

For researchers James Kouzes and Barry Posner, "before you can effectively lead others, you must have a clear understanding of yourself". The Santa Clara University academics argued in their book The Leadership Challenge, that leadership growth is essentially a process of self-development.

There are many traits necessary to lead, but confidence is perhaps the most important for women to have, and to use as a lever to overcome the barriers in their way to the corner office.

For example, mindset coach Susie Ramroop, who will be speaking at Women into Leadership Cardiff on 3 February 2022, has already told us that confidence helps people take bold steps in the face of obstacles or adversity. Confidence is a tool that reminds us that we have what it takes to overcome difficulties and succeed.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, chief executive of the Center For Talent Innovation, concurs. The author of Executive Presence: The missing link between merit and success, believes that being perceived as 'leadership material' is just one ingredient in the recipe for success. She argues the ability to project a leadership presence is the cherry on the cake.

Her book explains that many factors contribute to projecting a leadership presence, from the outfit you choose to the way you communicate. Every detail in you makes a difference. 

"We found that executive presence is a dynamic mix of appearance, communication, and gravitas," Hewlett told Forbes

She explained that gravitas is the confidence and judgment you inspire in others to follow and trust your vision. And 67% of the 268 senior executives surveyed for the book reported that 'gravitas,' carries the most weight in projecting executive presence. 

For Hewlett, this trait is crucial to signal depth and heft, as much as the confidence and credibility to get your point across. It conveys the authority of a leader.

The three Cs of confidence

There are tools and techniques that women can learn to help them be more confident and see themselves in the positions they aspire to be. Brandon Burchard in his book High-Performance Habits, explains that you will go a long way by exercising the three Cs of confidence.

Burchard explains that even when under immense pressure, high performers know how to generate the confidence to push ahead. "Confidence isn’t something you’re born with. It requires patience, hard work, and persistence," he says.

The exercises Burchard talks about are the following:

  • Competence: You must believe in your abilities. Use your knowledge and skillset to feed your confidence.

To achieve this, it's important to take the time to master critical skills. "The more you know about a topic, the more confident you can be in your abilities," says Burchard.

  • Congruence: Work on your self-image and act in accordance with your values. 

Developing congruence requires a strong sense of identity, so you need to define your values and set your intentions. Burchard argues that "once you know those things, you won’t second-guess any choices that align with them".

  • Connection: Get the most out of your social life. Use interactions with family, friends and colleagues to learn more about them and their work.

Burchard explains that to develop connection, you need to engage with the people around you and seek out opportunities for education and development.

Communicating with confidence: gaining credibility and influence is one of the breakout sessions at the Women into Leadership conference. Join us on 3 February in Cardiff or online, and you will come away with hands-on advice and coaching on how to further develop your career in times of change. 

Some sessions you don't want to miss:
  • Leadership Material: how to increase your visibility to position yourself as a leader, with Hira Ali, author, writer, executive career coach, and leadership trainer
  • Yes She Can: embracing adversity to power success, with Uzo Iwobi, specialist policy adviser on Equalities at Welsh Government
  • Rebuilding Relationships: optimising your career & wellbeing, with Chief Impact Officer, Mind Tools for Business

Visit the Women into Leadership website to view the full agenda and secure your place today.Women into Leadership is brought to you in partnership with FDA.


Murielle Gonzalez, content strategy manager at Dods Diversity & Inclusion, is an experienced journalist and editor. She can be reached on murielle.gonzalez@dodsgroup.com.

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