Expert Advice on How to Be a More Confident Business Leader

rsz_computerwithphone by Tim Parker on September 5, 2013
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Running a successful small business is reason enough to be confident about your leadership skills. But exuding that confidence doesn’t come easily for some entrepreneurs, which unfortunately may deter customers.

Let’s face it, people are attracted to — and influenced by — individuals who are decisive, focused, and demonstrate a belief in themselves and in whatever they’re selling. So, it’s important for small-business owners to display confidence, even when they don’t feel it on the inside.

The Intuit Small Business Blog recently asked a few experts for their advice on how to do just that. Here’s what they recommend:

Know your facts. If you don’t feel confident in yourself, find confidence in the facts. “To exhibit confidence as a business owner, show quantifiable results to customers. Don’t be afraid to tell the customer when s/he is wrong, and fall in love with how you’ll help them solve their problems,” says Virginia Randall, an award-winning PR and marketing professional.

Look the part. Michael Christian, founder of Manhattan Makeovers, recommends examining your wardrobe. “Female business owners would be amazed at how the right shoes can change how they feel about themselves. A pair of closed-toe, closed-heel, black pumps with heels of no more than 2.5 inches can make any businesswoman look and feel like a new person,” he says. “I’ve also seen countless times how wearing appropriate jackets and suits can transform a diffident, retiring business owner into an outgoing dynamo exuding confidence and authority.”

Practice your handshake. You’re probably as aware of people’s handshakes as they are of yours, so make yours a good one. Susan Ascher, president and CEO of the Ascher Group, advises keeping your greetings gender-neutral. Do not clasp a woman’s hand daintily or a man’s hand with “a death grip,” she warns, noting that “men and women who don’t know better — and women who lack confidence — sometimes clasp fingers instead of hands.”

Be confident, not arrogant. Nobody likes an over-the-top ego, observes Troy Hazard, an entrepreneur and the author of Future-Proofing Your Business. “Be confident, not arrogant. Confident leaders lead through values, vision, and vulnerability. Arrogant leaders lead through fear, blame, and ego.”

Take the lead. “When meeting people, take a moment to look them in the eye,” says Suzanne Hazelton, a leadership coach and the author of various books, including Raise Your Game. “Smile. Remember that most people aren’t feeling confident, so you can exude confidence by initiating the conversation, introducing yourself, and asking about them. Think through some questions relevant to the situation, and act like the host.”

Learn to control stress. Tom Justin, author of How to Take No for an Answer and Still Succeed, believes that confidence comes from managing stress and fear. “Businesses are built on intention,” he notes. “Stress comes from attachment to outcome, which you can’t control. You only control your actions and reactions. High attachment to outcome equals higher stress. When you focus on what you control, you reduce your fear and naturally exhibit authentic confidence.”

Speak positively to yourself. Becky Blalock, author of DARE: Straight Talk on Confidence, Courage, and Career for Women in Charge, recommends listening to your inner voice and how you talk to yourself. “Is this how you would talk to a friend? Make sure you talk positively to yourself. You alone are in charge of your thought processes.”

Fake it ’til you make it. Confidence is a learned behavior. “By acting as if you are confident, you start to imbue the spirit of becoming confident,” says executive coach Jacqueline Wales. “For introverts, that can be challenging, but it’s important to know that only by taking small steps forward — and believing you can do it — will things start to change.”

Stop trying so hard. “My main message, based on research, is authenticity,” says Emma Seppala, associate director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University. “Believe in what you say, and if you have misgivings, share them. People will respond to your honesty and authenticity and will see through pretense. Our brain is wired to read the most subtle of clues, even if we don’t realize it’s happening. This may explain why sometimes we choose not to do business with somebody based on a gut feeling.”

Practice operating outside of your comfort zone. Pushing yourself to try something new is the only way to develop new skills. “Push yourself outside your comfort zone on even the smallest things,” suggests author and speaker Constance Hoffman. “Sit in the front row at a speaking function. Make yourself say ‘hello’ first at a networking event. Make small talk while standing in line at the grocery store. Or invite someone you admire as a fellow business owner and ask for guidance. Better yet, offer to be someone else’s mentor.”

Take care of yourself. Trudy Scott, nutritionist and author of The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution says that low serotonin levels can cause a lack of confidence, poor self-esteem, anxiety, and negativity. “But you can use the food-mood connection to raise serotonin and gain confidence and calmness. Eat real, whole foods and enough protein, like grass-fed red meat. Manage your blood sugar by eating breakfast. Skip the [processed] sugar and exercise.”

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Tim Parker is a business writer for Intuit and is passionate about solving small business problems.

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