Pop quiz: What separates the smart and hardworking from the smart and hardworking in leadership roles?
Answer: Executive presence, which entails exuding confidence, more so for women than for men, the Center for Talent Innovation has found.
Of course, the lack of executive presence, and so confidence, perceived or otherwise, isn’t the only reason there are so few women at the C-level of corporations. “Company policies and practices and gender bias are all contributing factors, too,” says Grace Killelea, founder and CEO of the GKC Group and author of The Confidence Effect: Every Woman’s Guide to the Attitude That Attracts Success. “But the confidence gap is real and it is keeping women back.”
To kick up your confidence, Killelea says that the first thing to do is “understand that it is not a feeling—you don’t wake up one morning and suddenly feel like you are the best in the world.” Instead, “confidence is a decision you make that requires action,” she says. “It’s deciding that you want that bigger job and then going after it by doing things like showing up even when you’re scared, telling your inner critic to take a walk, using your voice and raising your hand.”
Killelea promises that it gets easier: “Confidence is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger you get.” Here, three ways to build (and show) more self-assurance:
#1 Walk like you own the place.
You don’t have to strut or swagger. “This is more about having physical energy and a positive, can-do vibe,” Killelea explains. “Everyone has bad days, but even when you are sick or have a crisis, show up as the best version of yourself that day.”
#2 Ask at least one informed question in meetings with higher-ups.
Just convincing yourself that you belong in the room may be achievement enough initially. But eventually you’re going to want to speak, and “you don’t want to sound unknowledgeable or like you just rolled out of bed,” Killelea says. She advises reading up on attendees you don’t know as well as on the subject at hand. Information, after all, is power, and can embolden you even to play devil’s advocate. (If you do, just “be sure to be respectful,” Killelea says.)
#3 Practice your self-introduction.
First impressions are important, so you don’t want to fumble who you are and what you do for the company when a VIP unexpectedly asks. You also don’t want to say you’re in, say, the sales department, when you could say you are the leading salesperson with the highest volume for the past nine quarters. Finally, Killelea recommends working on that handshake!