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How Confidence Can Both Help and Hinder Your Leadership

If we asked you to rate yourself on your overall level of confidence on a scale of 1-10, where would you put yourself? Are you a six? A four? A nine?

When we do this exercise in our coaching workshops, most people put themselves at around a five or a six. And they’re often surprised to hear that the optimal number on that scale is not much higher than that.

According to Dr Rob Yeung, author of Confidence 2.0 a rating of six or seven is an optimal place to be. He argues that people with only moderate levels of confidence do best and he highlights the value of “middling” confidence.

Dr Yeung says: “The research is unreservedly clear on this; past a certain point, more confidence is definitely not a good thing. Feeling too self-assured does not lead to better results. We’ve seen that people who are overconfident may actually suffer as a result of their overly high self-estimations. They may interrupt others and be perceived as bragging. They get slated for being defensive and lacking insight into their own behaviour. They may push themselves into situations that they simply don’t have the skills or experience to succeed at.”

We’ve all come across leaders like this and some of us have been led by them. Too much confidence can work against us.

But we also need enough of it to build trust because when a leader exhibits confidence, it makes it easier to trust them. People want to work with people they trust.

So How Do We Get The Balance Right?

Our levels of self-confidence are impacted by three things; nature - your genes and the level of specific neuro-chemicals in your brain; nurture – how you are treated, the social pressures that are around you, your family and friends, the experiences you have and the background you come from; and mindset – your attitude to risk and how you respond to challenges – whether you approach things with a fixed or growth mindset.

The latter is crucial because it can be changed. Our brains are plastic – we can learn and change and grow – in fact as humans we have an innate desire to do so. But as with all things we want to change, the first step to doing so is to become aware of the thing that we want to change that might be getting in our way. Which is where Engage comes in.

What Is Engage?

Engage is a diagnostic leadership tool that measures mindset in order to help clients achieve the outcomes they want at work by identifying beliefs that might be getting in their way - as well as those which are helping them. Adopted by organisations ranging from the NHS to Novartis, and based on ten years of research, it measures individuals across different scales related to performance and can shine a spotlight on leadership behaviours that a client or team might want to do more (or less of) in order to succeed.

Appropriate levels of confidence is a key driver of success and confidence is one of three areas that Engages measures an individual against (openness and impact are the others).

Engage measures against five specific areas of confidence;

1. Self-belief

The degree that someone values themselves and levels of self-confidence.

2. Self-awareness

The degree with which someone reflects on their internal state of mind and how their thoughts, attitudes and feelings influence their behaviour. It also considers the awareness of the impact we have on others.

3. Personal Capability

The degree to which a person believes they can successfully undertake and complete tasks. This is also related to resilience and resourcefulness to deal with the unexpected.

4. Personal Influence

The extent to which someone believes they can personally influence people and events around them (circle of influence) and the degree to which they take personal responsibility for outcomes.

5. External Awareness

How someone responds to large groups of people and unfamiliar settings and how shy or self conscious they are.

Where Engage really comes into its own is its ability to shine a light on interaction effects. This is where a low of a high score in one area interacts with another - which can highlight an area that might be working as a “de-railer” for a client – a strength that they might be overplaying, or a behaviour that might be working against them.

For example someone with very high self-confidence can tip over into arrogance, and might be selective with the feedback they choose to listen to – filtering out the negative and only hanging on to the positive. This combined with a high personal influence score, could mean that they have a tendency to only pay “lip-service” to feedback. It’s easy to see how both of this might get in the way of someone’s performance and ability to lead.

As well as highlighting where a client has the potential to be de-railed, Engage can also show where an individual (or team) behaviour is working as an accelerator or strength. Once you know the things that are working for you, you can do more of them and be deliberate and intentional about where to focus your efforts.

A key part of our role as coaches is to help our clients trust themselves. To help them learn how trust their own instincts more, and apply their own wisdom to guide how they lead. Engage can help hone this wisdom and give a new and different perspective on their own confidence levels.

Ultimately, helping them work out what’s helping, and what’s hindering their leadership.

Contact Us Today

If you’d like to find out more about Engage, please get in touch.


Confidence 2.0. Dr Rob Yeung. John Murray Learning. 2017.

Written by Leadership Coaches Lisa Quinn and Nicky Chambers.


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