I wrote a post earlier this year Self-confident, conceited or charismatic? Yesterday I attended a 90 minute workshop on mentoring confidence put on by The Sandbox Fund at MIT. The presenter was Alyssa Dver, Chief Confidence Officer. At the rate CXX titles are growing pretty soon employees without a CXX title will be a minority! Be that as it may, she has a research and coaching certification from the AmericanConfidenceInstitute.com and has a book and blog entitled Kickass-Confidence.
She defines confidence as Being certain and acting according to your own values and beliefs.
You might consider this post a continuance of my previous post. What I found most useful from the work shop was a listing of characteristics of confident people. They:
- Stay calm
- Listen better than most
- Are diplomatic, but decisive
- Apologize appropriately – no dissembling!
- Are not defensive
- Are eager to learn – are curious
- Sit up or stand up straight – they don’t slouch
- Make good, appropriate eye contact
- Don’t speak either too softly or too loudly
I think that every mentee who has anything to do with sales in any manner, shape or form, from direct sales to customer support, could benefit from this work shop. Sales people must not only appear confident, they must be confident – about their product and their company.
Ms. Dver ran through a number of role playing exercises with volunteers from the audience, most were directly at how to deal with people who are not confident. They may be cocky, be bullies, be indifferent, rude or worse. The value of silence was brought up several times. I’ve written about this myself in the post Silence is Golden. What impressed me the most was she was willing to admit there are some situations in which you just can’t win over a bully or indifferent person and it’s best to realize that and ask if perhaps there might be a better time to meet. When one or more people insist on talking over you and/or constantly interrupting you this may be the time to excuse yourself from the meeting.
Ms. Dver had four recommendations for training in confidence
- Awareness – make sure the mentee knows what the potential risk/pain is and mitigate it with logic
- Structure – identify specific memories that remind the mentee of his/her ability
- Small win – break the solution into smaller parts
- Accountability – identify how to measure and report back to you with progress
Where I do differ somewhat from Ms. Dver is in two areas. One, I believe that to be a successful entrepreneur you have to be on the verge of arrogance if not past it, because it takes some arrogance to believe you can build a product better than X Co, Y Co or any other company in the world! Just being confident may not be enough to overcome the massive hurdles that face every startup founder. The other issue is that I find that practice breeds confidence. As a New England Patriots football fan I closely follow 40 year-old quarterback Tom Brady, who makes it plain that the reason he is so confident is that in his 18-year pro career he’s seen every possible defensive scheme, live and on video, multiple times. And he out-practices everyone, every day.
In fact I encourage my mentees to practice their pitches over and over again. Even Steve Jobs, one of the world’s best presenters ever, spent hours practicing his keynotes. And believe me, from just meeting with him briefly, he exuded confidence – as well as charisma.
So whether you are a mentor or a founder, confidence is an important ingredient in the stew of entrepreneurial success and an attribute that should not be taken for granted, nor assumed to be wired into one’s DNA, or not. It can be learned, and should be, if you want to be a successful founder or mentor.