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Strong Female Lead

How The Most Successful Women Gain Confidence

Why faking confidence is the key to becoming confident.

How The Most Successful Women Gain Confidence
[Photo: kupicoo/Getty Images]

Women are constantly being told to "lean in" in order to be successful, but what happens when women try to lean in but lack confidence?

Grace Killelea, author of the new book The Confidence Effect, says simply leaning in isn’t enough. She argues that women need to work on boosting their confidence first. "Having confidence leads to other behaviors; like speaking up, raising your hand, taking risks, having a voice at the table," she says. Having confidence, Killelea argues, opens opportunities to women to be real leaders. So, how do the most successful women gain confidence? By faking it.

We’ve all heard the expression, "Fake it till you make it." Killelea says women who lack confidence can use this strategy to gain the confidence they need to get noticed and achieve the success they deserve. "Faking it" doesn’t mean being inauthentic, but consciously practicing a skill until it becomes natural. "It’s like muscle memory. You have to practice, you have to get through the fear part of it, until it becomes a natural habit," says Killelea.

Here are five steps you can take to "fake" your confidence:

Look The Part

Faking confidence begins with your physical presence. Changing your body posture (shoulders back, head up), looking people in the eye when speaking with them rather than fidgeting with paperwork, dressing the part, and being physically present are key components to faking confidence.

Find Your Voice

Do you speak so softly in a meeting that no one hears you? When you’re interrupted, do you shut up, letting your thought die in its tracks? Killelea says these are some of the behaviors she commonly sees in women who lack confidence. "Being physically present isn’t enough, you need to show others that you’re there," she says. While women who lack confidence will often sit on an idea, trying to perfect it before putting a voice to it and end up leaving the room thinking, "I wish I had said this," Killelea says confident women (or those who "fake it") aren’t afraid to put a voice to their idea, and are willing to be wrong or have their idea shot down or challenged in a meeting.

Stop Apologizing

Women, Killelea says, have a tendency to want to be liked. This leads women to be more apologetic, saying things like, "I’m sorry to be taking up your time," instead of, "I have something I’d like to discuss with you," or prefacing their thoughts with, "This may be a stupid idea . . . " or being overly collaborative. Confident women are conscious of how they show up. They recognize that being collaborative is a great quality, but understand that being overly collaborative can cause them to appear weak and indecisive. They don’t preface their opinions or apologize for them.

Don’t Underestimate Your Abilities

While men have a tendency to overestimate their abilities, women have a tendency to sell themselves short, assuming speaking about themselves in a positive way is bragging. Killelea quotes a famous Mohammed Ali saying: "It’s not bragging if you can back it up."

"Stating factually what you’re good at isn’t bragging when it’s done in an appropriate way," she says. Confident women are comfortable with positively disclosing what they’re good at, and don’t hide their skills behind fears of coming across as arrogant.

Disqualify Negative Self-Talk

Non-confident women often have a number of self-made excuses thrashing about in their heads that prevent them from taking steps forward. In order to make progress on confidence, you need to disqualify the "I’m not good enough," "educated enough," "pretty enough."

"The more we can negate that (negative self-talk), the more opportunity we’re going to have to show up in any environment, whether personal or professional," says Killelea.

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