From donor communications and community collaboratives to leading your team, there are few areas where confidence doesn’t play a major role in your success and your comfort. If you have the benefit of external affirmations like awards, a big title, or a killer resume—kudos! But, maintaining healthy confidence is rooted in things deeper than these accomplishments.
If you don’t have those things (yet), it’s okay. Your confidence is something you can strengthen and control, much like a muscle. The more you work to improve it and exercise it, the more it grows. The more your confidence grows, the more strength you will bring to your work and mission. Here are five tips to help you recognize the strength you already have in this area, as well as some ways anyone can grow.
Knowledge: Level the playing field
There is nothing as empowering as knowing what you’re talking about. Speaking with authority lends confidence to your message and to you. In our information-saturated and Google-savvy society, we’re quick to spot an imposter and we’re quicker to recognize and affirm those who know their stuff. Showing up prepared is one of the easiest and most effective confidence-building exercises you can do. If you’ve been working in your field for a while, this can be as simple as drawing off your own lessons, triumphs, and experiences.
Don’t be misled into thinking knowledge is only born out of experience. Even if you’re new to what you’re doing, you can master the knowledge needed to convey confidence.
The expert curve has been irrevocably flattened by Google. Even if this is your first time working in the nonprofit sector, you can come to the table (or Zoom call, or conference, or board meeting) with knowledge and confidence. Do your research ahead of time and, if challenged, draw on your newness as a strength. Rather than inexperience, you bring a new perspective, recent research, and a fresh approach.
“If you have the why, you can Google the how.” – Tim Denning
Consistency: Build and strengthen your approach
I once had a boss who dubbed me a “chronic hand-raiser.” I may not have been the oldest, most experienced, or savviest professional in the room, but I was always the most willing. The irony is that I only had to muster the confidence a few times (drawing off the knowledge that came through preparation…see #1) and then my willingness was interpreted as fearlessness. My “would” became my “could.”
Consistency is probably the hardest item on this list, but as with any growth exercise, conditioning is the key. I’ve seen extreme introverts go from nearly passing out to passing referrals in networking groups like it was their calling. The consistency of meeting weekly dulled their discomfort and strengthened their confidence.
If joining a networking group is too big of a stretch, try focusing on these other things. When done consistently, these will convey your comfort and expertise in your role:
- Know the data. Whatever you do, your job involves some sort of data.
- Be prompt. Showing up early communicates eagerness and fearlessness.
- Stay on top of technology and trends. This is becoming increasingly important in all roles—even those considered non-technical.
- Be an active listener. By truly listening, you will in turn become a thoughtful responder.
Outside counsel: Talk to someone who knows you apart from your career
Your identity is not your career. Even if you think it is, it isn’t. You’re more than your work. Having a mentor, friend, or even a professional colleague who can affirm this can help your confidence stay rooted in more than your job. Try to build a relationship with at least one person where you discuss any and all things besides work. Over time, this will affirm and grow other areas of your life and identity.
Perspective: Know your worst-case scenario game plan
My father used to respond to all my crises by encouraging me to (mentally) play out the worst-case scenario. One of two things typically happened:
- The worst-case scenario was manageable. I could solve it, or at least tolerate the potential trouble.
- The worst-case scenario was so outlandish and far-fetched that it put the situation in perspective.
This exercise has proven to be one of the most valuable tools in building and upholding confidence. Many times, a lack of confidence is related to “borrowed trouble.” We manifest a fear that may or may not actually be warranted. Rather than letting the fear take over, get your head wrapped around the whole situation, and actively think through your response. It’s one more piece of knowledge and preparation that can help you to show up with confidence.
Humility: Build out more than you build up
As emotional intelligence and the desire for authenticity become the cultural norm, the dynamics behind confidence are changing. The pandemic and subsequent shift to virtual connection only amplify this. Gone are the days of sauntering into a board room and sitting at the head of the table, or simply talking more (or louder) to be heard.
This generation appreciates the confidence that is demonstrated, not declared. Thanks to insightful authors like Brené Brown, we’re beginning to recognize that arrogance often masks insecurity. Confidence is most legitimate, effective, and respected when it is unannounced. No one wants to be beaten over the head with another’s accomplishments, and the person who takes the air out of the room with their introduction does just that: they take the air out of the room.
Don’t suffocate your team, donors, or clients. Breathe life into their work and interests by building out—offering meaningful affirmation, adding knowledge, uplifting other’s insights—rather than building up (puffing, acting with a self-centered perspective, disregarding other value). This will build others’ confidence in you, which will help you gain confidence in yourself.
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