Confidence doesn’t seem to be something that gets discussed a lot when it comes to leadership.  But you may have noticed certain behaviours in a leader and not realised that that behaviour is actually down to a severe lack of confidence.

One such leader joined an established team and rather than taking time to notice how much they had achieved and continue developing from there, they routinely set about trying to break up the obvious team spirit.  After a later discussion with me, it transpires that they hadn’t realised their lack of confidence had unconsciously led them to the belief that they had to stamp their authority on the team in one way or another and “if they put up with my style, great, but if they don’t like it, they can go”.  Not the most constructive way to get the best out of the team?

Too much confidence can also stop a leader from leading well.  A great leader needs to know and have the confidence to be themselves and develop true self-awareness.  The right level of confidence is a key element to their own personal development, so that it never gets in the way of their success as a leader.

Here are 9 ways to spot a leader who lacks confidence:

  • Needing to know everything: this is a fear of looking foolish in front of employees, peers and senior management.  But no-one is expected to know everything and should feel comfortable to state that they’ll find out, and not cover or make things up to hide their lack of knowledge.
  • Not asking questions: and making snap decisions based on little information.  Feeling comfortable to ask the questions that others are reluctant to can lead to significant breakthroughs on projects, processes and development needs.
  • Needing to be liked: Leaders need to feel comfortable that not everyone can or will like them, but they do need to gain their respect. Being liked may make them feel better about themselves, but could lead to favouritism, and impact their decisions regarding hiring, firing, promotions, conflict management and task assignment.
  • Taking things personally: this is only appropriate when things are personal, and sensitive situations need to be handled without getting emotional.
  • Getting defensive: a confident leader will understand that if an employee questions them, it is an opportunity to clarify, discuss etc, and is not a personal judgement.  If it’s a tough question, a perceived accusation or some feedback which needs responding to, the reaction should not be one of anger or power.
  • Taking the credit: this one goes hand in hand with knowing everything, as a leader lacking in confidence will feel the need to make themselves look good in the eyes of their bosses, not realising that the achievements of their team is a key element of their own successful development practices.
  • Letting conflict continue: not dealing with a conflict issue and letting it fester will have disastrous effects on the team, reducing motivation, engagement, productivity and increasing turnover.
  • Ineffective delegation: either by too much delegation without the necessary support, or too little delegation as the leader does not have the confidence to let go of tasks and coach those taking it on.
  • Not developing others: developing the individuals in their team, understanding their motivational needs and providing a safe environment to learn is essential for their own and their employees success.

Are you concerned that some of the above also relate to you?  Don’t worry, most leaders will have done some if not all of the above at some stage in their career.  Leadership is not an easy task, and if you’ve not had the support to build your confidence as you take on the complexities involved, then your confidence can be knocked.

Being given the role of a leader does not automatically lead to your confidence in doing the job well.  Being aware of your motivations, stress triggers, decision making processes and being comfortable with learning from mistakes and understanding the benefits of being authentic will help to build your confidence.  And the effects of getting the right level of confidence in yourself will have lasting effects on your abilities and success going forward, as well as the progress of your team.

Click on the links for more information on developing self-awareness to enhance your leadership skills, or how executive coaching could help your confidence.



  1. The author’s description of this type of “leader” is troublesome. Any person who suffers from one or many of these nine points should not be put in a leadership position. There is only on direction this person will go and that is DOWN.

    No company can afford to put a person in this position for very long. HIs/her boss should recognize this and act quickly and decisively before the group ends up in real trouble.

  2. admin

    Thanks for your comment Jeffrey. Although in an ideal situation leaders would be confident in their role, there will be a learning curve and many have not been supported to understand their behaviour and how this can affect their teams. Helping the individual to recognise confidence issues, and work towards improving them, would really help them to progress their leadership in a way that can have a lasting affect on their career and their team’s results.

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