Courage: Lead with Grounded ConfidencePosted on February 9, 2020


Why are leaders hesitant to focus on this?

Effective leaders demonstrate both the willingness and courage to negotiate “the gray.”  This requires us to navigate the ambiguity of paradoxes and opposites we are faced with in almost every leadership decision: thinking long-term and short-term, having a big heart and making tough decisions, thinking big and starting small, optimism and realism.  When leaders lack the confidence or courage to lead in the gray, “all or nothing” thinking and decision making is easier and less risky.  This protective armor allows the leader to hide out and avoid the tough stuff that produces the most effective results.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

According to Brene Brown, grounded confidence is “the messy process of learning and unlearning, practicing and failing, and surviving misses.”  This type of confidence is not the posturing built on bologna.  Grounded confidence is authentic, built on self-awareness and PRACTICE.  In tough conversations, hard meetings, and emotionally charged decision making leaders need the grounded confidence to (1) stay true to their values, (2) respond rather than react emotionally, and (3) operate from self-awareness, not self-protection when navigating the discomfort of “gray.”

How can you do it? 

Build confident “rumble” skills. As much as we hate to admit it, easy learning doesn’t build strong skills.  The athlete or musician puts in hours of practice on the basics before even attempting to perform.  Building confidence in managing the gray takes learning that is effortful and uncomfortable enough to hurt our brain for a while.  We have to “feel the burn” and practice so much that our brains have “muscle memory” to enter and manage the tough situation on auto-pilot.

Remain curious. Curiosity, the desire to know and learn, frees our brains from predefined outcomes or confines.  Leaders may not have the courage to engage in tough conversations because they cannot control the path or the outcome.  Reframing with curiosity gives the leader confidence to ask questions to learn more when entering a tough conversation.  Rumble starters such as “I’m curious about,” “Help me understand,” “I’m wondering about,” “Tell me why this doesn’t work for you,” are useful curiosity primers to build confidence in engaging others in a tough interaction.

Practice.  Practice.  Practice. Confidence, especially in vulnerable situations, can only be built through repetitive practice.  Engage in opportunities, like Leadership Rounds, to put yourself out there.  Practice sharing a mistake or tough situation you managed and be open to the feedback of your colleagues.  Roll play with a peer a difficult conversation and discuss options for managing the flow of the interaction.  Act.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Building grounded confidence is a process of trial and error.

What strategies have you used in your leadership career to build confidence? Log on and join the conversation at  We learn best from each other’s experiences.

1 Response

stewartk February 10th, 2020

Confident leaders approach their work with humility. These leaders realize they still have a lot to learn, and they are determined to keep learning from their mistakes. Confident leaders are always asking themselves and their teams what they could have done better. Overconfident leaders, on the other hand, are arrogant and cocky. Flying blind, they take pride in their ignorance, fooling themselves that they know everything they need to know. While they succeed in fooling themselves, they do not fool others; their ineffectiveness is apparent to everyone but them.

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