Improving Your Confidence at Work with Jenny Cole

Improve your leadership confidence with Positively Leading! I’m your host, Jenny Cole, and following on from last weeks episode, I am sharing 5 strategies for improving your confidence at work.

If you’ve ever felt held back by self-doubt or wondered if you’ve got what it takes to lead, this episode is your ticket to turning those doubts into . We’re diving into Amy Cuddy’s game-changing research, showing you how your body language can totally transform your swagger.

Just like a chef hones their cooking skills with practice, we’re all about fine-tuning your leadership skills by tapping into your strengths and taking proactive steps. Whether you’re a new middle leader or a woman in senior leadership, these tips will leave you ready to conquer anything.

Learn how to kick those pesky internal doubts to the curb and use them as fuel to amp up your confidence. We’ll share strategies to tackle those limiting beliefs head-on, and come out stronger on the other side. Failure? Bring it on! It’s all about embracing those bumps in the road as opportunities to grow and bounce back stronger than ever.

So, hit play and join the ranks of brave female leaders who are rewriting the rules and owning their space with confidence. Your journey from unsure to unstoppable starts right here.


Jenny Cole 00:00

Hello and welcome back to Positively Leading. My name is Jenny Cole, and this podcast is designed for new and aspiring middle leaders in schools. One of the problems that we know faces a lot of new leaders, particularly those women leaders, is confidence, and so this is the second in a two-part series on confidence, and this one's starting to get a little bit more practical the sorts of things that you can do to improve your confidence. And remember that confidence is not a fixed trait. It's not whether or not you can do something, but your belief in doing something. So your belief in being able to public speak, your belief in being able to be successful in applying for that job, and for all of us, confidence shows up in different ways. Some of us are very confident in particular areas of our life and work, and then we really struggle in others. We talked in the last episode about some of the research and some of the findings around confidence for women. Today, we're going to look into five things that you can do differently or that you can be aware of in order to lift your confidence when you need to.


So I made reference last week to a woman who was part of my Launching Into Leadership course. The Launching Into Leadership is my flagship program for new leaders or aspiring leaders in education. It's designed as an entry-level program for those people who perhaps haven't done a lot of leadership training before, and in one of my groups there was a woman who actually had her master's in educational leadership and I said why are you here? Why haven't you applied? And she said, oh, I'm not ready. I think I need to learn more. And the example I gave last week was about cooking. This week's going to be about golf. You don't learn to be a leader by reading and watching videos, just the same way that you are never going to be better at golf, even if you've read all the golf books, even if you watch the videos, even if you follow the tournaments. The only thing that makes you better at golf is actually getting out there and doing it, taking action. And then what you notice good golfers do and good sports people do and I encourage good leaders to do this too is that when they're practicing, they're getting feedback from a skilled coach or mentor who can let you know that what you're doing is working or not working. And feedback is good course correction, but the first step is to take action. So when you find yourself crippled by a lack of confidence or a lack of self-belief, the very first thing I encourage you to do is to take some kind of forward action. It doesn't have to be radical, but take an action that's going to get you a little bit closer, because momentum often means that by the time we've started something that we often get better at it.



So most of us are very nervous to do public speaking, but we find once we're up there, once we've got going, we kind of slide into it and that anxiety leaves us. And one of the reasons that occurs is the stuff that really shakes our self-belief is the primal part of our brain which is designed to keep us safe, the amygdala, whose job it is to register threat. Imagine being a lizard looking around for threat all the time, looking at a bird and thinking you could eat me, but looking at a tree and thinking you're relatively benign, you're no threat at all. We're designed like that, and if you think that when the lizard part of our brain is not still working well, then you're delusional, because it's the thing that's always looking for threat. And then the part of the brain that sits right next to it, the hippocampus its job is to remember bad things and then to encourage us to fight, flight or freeze, and anxiety and worry and a lack of confidence is often these early warning systems going into overdrive and you can in many ways overcome that. So our physiology has as much to do with our anxiety as anything that's going on up here.


And so there's some great research by people like Amy Cuddy who has shown that if you can make yourself bigger and more powerful and put your shoulders back and your legs slightly apart and perhaps even a Dr Wonder Woman pose, this has shown to increase the testosterone and decrease the cortisol. So testosterone is that male hormone that allows us to take risks that I talked about in the last episode, and cortisol and adrenaline are those stress hormones that are trying to tell us to fight, fight or freeze. So we see what people do when they get nervous they shrink up and they get small and they cross their legs and they cross their arms and they shrivel. Amy's research showed because she was really curious about those people in her lectures not just women, but people in marginalized groups or low socioeconomic groups about why they weren't participating as much as others, and she became really fascinated about the body language, the physiology, and she was the person that invented the Wonder Woman pose, which is prior to an event where you feel like your confidence is going to be really useful.


So prior to a case conference with a difficult parent, prior to a job interview, prior to your performance management meeting with your line manager. So this is not something you do in the event. You do it prior to the event. It might mean striding purposefully, so big arms and big strides, masculine kind of movements, or it might mean heading to the staff toilets for a little bit and standing in a cubicle in a Wonder Woman pose, making yourself as big and as open as possible, because the research shows this drops the cortisol and increases your testosterone, which makes you feel more confident. So just be really aware of your physiology.


The other thing that we do when we're feeling not confident is we beat ourselves up and we try to fix the weaknesses. So I see lots and lots and lots of people who are trying to apply for positions who feel like they know everything there is to know about relationships and behavior and curriculum, but they've never managed a budget before and so the temptation is to go off and learn about that or fix that or that's something that they're not very good at. They get a bit worried about that. Instead, we say harness your strengths, work to your strengths.


The VIA character strengths are the ones that I tend to work with, but it's also knowing yourself, knowing that your strengths can be a weakness if they're overplayed. So, for example, one of my strengths is zest and enthusiasm and optimism. I'm bubbly and loud and enthusiastic, which can be great in a workplace. I can be very inclusive. I can be funny, which is pleasant to be around. If I overplay that strength, I become the class clown and look like a bit of an idiot. If I underplay that strength, I get very serious and very focused.


So strengths is understanding who am I at my best and doing more of that, because we always feel more confident when we are doing what comes naturally. And that's exactly what strengths are. They are just well-developed neural pathways in the brain. They're things that we've become good at, either over time or innately, and we don't have to think about it. They are our authentic self. So if you listen to the podcast episode with Claire Hennessy, she talks a lot about the value of knowing yourself. What's your strengths, what's your triggers, what's your weaknesses? What's your triggers, what's your weaknesses, what's your armor, and focusing on those strengths and doing more of that because, one, it makes us happy and two, we are more likely to feel confident when we are doing things that feel good to us.



One of the key things that trips us up is not our competence, not our capacity. Goodness knows, if you want something done, give it to a busy woman. We can always stretch our capacity. Whether that's a good thing or not is up for debate. So we know stuff. You know stuff. You've probably spent an entire career even if your career is only six years long getting really good at your craft, which is why you're being tapped on the shoulder to go into leadership positions. Or that's why you want to go into leadership positions, because you want to make a difference more broadly and you are really good at your thing. So your thing might be high school mathematics. Your thing might be behaviour management. Your thing might be structured management. Your thing might be structured literacy, and we get really good at that.



However, as we're stepping into the newness of a new role and a new identity, we start to get the wobbles. And when we get the wobbles, this is when all of those stories that we tell ourselves some of the stories and the programs that we've brought with us since childhood. This is when they start to get in the way. These are those voices in your head, and if you're thinking I don't have a voice in my head, then that's the voice I'm talking about, the one that's talking to you now. So most of us have two narratives going on all of the time, particularly when we're doing something new. So your narrative might be something like who do you think you are? You're just a classroom teacher Back in your box, don't get too big for your boots. Or your narrative might be around I'm not good enough, I don't know enough, I'm not old enough, I'm too old, I'm too out there, I'm not enough of something, all of those enoughness things, or there could just be some other little programs playing themselves out Like I'm not worthy. The little voice in my head says who are you? You should have tried harder. Everybody else knows more than you.


And these stories and they are stories because something happens and we assign the meaning to it, and so, as Claire said, you know I get to decide what the story is. Your story can be you're not old enough, or you don't know enough, or it could be you're young and you're enthusiastic and you've got a thirst for knowledge. That's a far more powerful story. But the thing about these stories is they stop us from taking action. What would you know? You're too young to apply, so you don't. They stop us in our tracks. So we've got to notice what the stories are, notice that they're happening. That's the hard part. Challenge those stories. Is that true? It might feel true, but is there another version of that truth? Or is there another version of that truth? Or is there a version of that truth that you could try out for a little while and change the story into one that's slightly more positive? Now, this is not Pollyanna stuff. This is just noticing what gets in the way.


And I've told the story in the past Janine Garner, who wrote a book called Brilliance. She calls the voice on her shoulder Mildred and in her mind Mildred is an orangutan and she says things like bugger off Mildred. This is not a job for an orangutan. I find talking to the voice on my shoulder really useful. It's like this is not helpful at the moment. Can you go away? But seeing it as an orangutan can turn it into something funny and make it feel ridiculous, and when we find something ridiculous, it's really hard to make it truth. We've made the voice in our head truth, and if we imagine that it's coming from an orangutan, all of a sudden it doesn't feel that true. So here's what we've come up with so far Don't go and learn more.



Instead, take action. Notice your physiology and are you getting small? Are you feeling powerless and then so shrinking? And if so, in the moment, where appropriate, make yourself as big as possible and try and up that hormone that's going to help you take a risk and get yourself out there. Number three was to harness your strengths. First of all, find out what they are and then put them to work. So do more of it and if you're not feeling that great, if there's something going wrong, look back on your strengths and see how you can top them up in the day. Again, Claire talks about finding activities that make her feel more hopeful, because her value strengths are hope, which is really useful.



Number four was question those stories, and they are just that. They are things that you've made up in your head, and the last one I'm going to talk about is what I call fail fast and often and I've adapted this from the work in the Confidence Code by Kay and Shipley, who talk a lot about the fact that girls don't have the opportunity to take as much risk as boys for a whole variety of reasons. They often stop playing competitive team sports younger, and they talk a lot about the fact that competition is really good, particularly in teams as a team member, because you can keep your self-worth and lose and still belong, still be part of a group. Failure isn't fatal.


Instead, we're growing and promoting Instagrammable, instaworthy perfectionists. It's been there for a while this is not just since Instagram but we are rewarding and encouraging perfection in our girls. We reward beautiful looking work. We reward beautiful looking classrooms. We reward order and calm and gentleness rather than risk, rather than innovation, rather than messy, muddily scientific approach, which is bet on this and it might be messy and let's see how we go. Our perfectionism would show up like this.



I'll use a school example. We give a perfectly capable person a task to do for the literacy committee. Can you take all of that curriculum and put together a scope and sequence and a series of activities that people at different year levels could do to engage with that material and that person because they are very keen to do a good job and they've invested a lot of their self-worth in doing a good job and being perfect. They go away and steadily and carefully and beautifully work on it until it is perfect and then they hand it back to the committee or to the leader for feedback. And when that feedback comes, instead of being iterative and useful, it feels wounding because it's saying this thing that I've spent so much time on is no good. And then we get stuck in those stories of oh, they didn't like it, I missed that bit and I should have known this and there was a typo on page four and you start to beat yourself up.


Brené Brown talks about shitty first drafts putting stuff out into the world before it's perfect so that you can get really used to getting feedback and growing and developing, so that when you put out the final piece, any feedback is going to be very minor and just feel useful. And so Fail Fast and Often and Amy Edmondson has just put out a fabulous piece of work, a book about failure, and her book title escapes me, but I will write it in the comments and it's very similar to Fail Fast and Often, which is why I've got it confused. It's about the power of failure and that it doesn't have to be fatal and it doesn't have to be final. Failure is we've probably misnamed it is take a risk, do something, get a bit of feedback, move forward. Don't wait till something is absolutely perfect, because it never will be. It just never will be. There is no such thing. So if you're striving for that, it's just a waste of effort. I believe done is better than perfect any day. So we would rather something out there in classrooms for teachers to use than something that takes three years to craft and be perfect and by the time it's finished the world has moved on. So they are my five tips for today for trying to build your confidence.


Take action. Don't go and learn more. Be really conscious of your physiology. Harness your strengths to the appropriate levels. Question the stories in your head and create new stories. Those negative thoughts are automatic. It is your brain keeping you safe. It's your job to catch them and change the story. And practice getting feedback, practice iterating, practice, stuffing up, owning up and moving on. It's only through those having a goes that we get better.


Unfortunately, as we get older, there is less that we need to learn and we get a little bit frightened of taking a risk and you might know it as a growth mindset. You can't have a growth mindset all the time. You've just got to have a growth mindset when you know that things won't be perfect. But have a go, get some feedback, make the changes, move on Now. If you'd like to know a little bit more about confidence, the resources will be at the bottom. I've got a little fact sheet that I've included for you. It's so important to me that it's a complete module in launching into leadership and other things that I do, and shortly I will also record a video about confidence that you can download. So watch this space. If you liked this podcast, please make sure you follow me. I try to put out content every single week and it's much easier to find if you follow or subscribe, depending on your platform, and if you really like this, I'd love you to give me a rating or review and I hope that you tune in next time.

Click on the link above to collapse this text.