Projecting Confidence

Are you confident?  Everywhere? Of course not. Where don’t you feel confident? One of the reasons people trust leaders is the sense of confidence they instill in others. To be clear—this doesn’t mean leaders don’t have doubts. What they do have is confidence in their area of expertise and know they can figure out what to do and what needs to be done.

So what is confidence and how can you project it – even if there are times when you don’t feel it? Merriam-Webster defines it as “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstance.” There are two key words in this definition. “Feeling” implies an emotional quality. “Power” in this sense about abilities tied to an inner awareness.

How you feel about a given situation can affect your self-confidence. When you are nervous or entering an unfamiliar one, you might not feel confident. A change of mindset can shift you from being uncertain to believing you have the ability to successfully handle the experience. You can read my February 5th blog, Leading a Great Meeting which discussed 5 “P’s” for success: Purpose, Preparation, People, Process, and Progress.  These 5 are applicable in those situations as well.

Taking confidence a step further, John Garfunkel offers his 5 Ways to Exude Confidence in Meetings, Even If You Aren’t.

1. DO: Sit in the front of the room or head of the table  – This can feel challenging when we’re not sure of our place, but, according to Garfunkel, this shows that you care about what is going on, what is being said and that you want to contribute and be heard. Being in the front shows others you value this meeting and ready to be a part of things.

AVOID: Sitting outside the focus area of discussion – Garfunkel notes, “if you are on the fringe leaves you exactly that.” The people in the back rarely speak up. They have chosen their seat because they are unsure of themselves. In a job interview, move your chair into a better position. You may have multiple people interviewing you, and you want to see each one – and have them see you.

2. DO: Treat Senior Executives as Equals – In education, this would refer to administrators and other district personnel such as the head of IT when you are on a technology committee. You have knowledge to bring to the table. Don’t be hesitant. Demonstrate your value to this meeting and to the educational community. Be aware of your intonation, and don’t end sentences with the raise in tone suggesting uncertainty.

AVOID: Looking Down and Not Making Eye Contact – This conveys insecurity in the situation. You want to show you are a full, contributing member of the team no matter who is present. Garfunkel says to “go for full engagement — listening, speaking, body language and eye contact.” This is equally true in a job interview. You want interviewers to see you will be a valuable addition to the staff.

3. DO: Project Your Voice Own that you are an expert in your area and have an important point to make, even if what you’re saying may be unpopular. Be clear, don’t end your sentences on a lifted voice (which makes your words sound like a question and unsure). Be confident and clear. 

AVOID: Apologizing or second-guessing yourself – Again, be mindful of your intonation. Put your ideas forward, knowing they are based on your competence and knowledge. Your conviction will go a long way in helping others to feel and accept your confidence.

4.  DO: Use your body position to convey confidence – Garfunkel recommends you lean forward. It shows you are fully engaged. The act of physically engaging will send a strong message and boost your own positivity.

AVOID: Slumping, Slouching or Angling Away from the Conversation – Sitting this way sends a strong message that you have tuned-out and can insult or upset the person who is speaking. Show engagement whenever possible.

5.  DO: Engage Before the Meeting Starts – This is an excellent time for you to become more comfortable with the others in attendance and they with you. It will make it easier for you to engage and for others to engage with you once the meeting begins because you will have already connected casually.

AVOID: Lowering the Height of Your Chair – Remain at eye levels as others in the meeting so that you are not visually defining yourself as less. You are there to contribute equally and show the expertise you bring.

Something to remember, confidence is not the same as arrogance. Arrogance is when someone has an exaggerated sense of their own importance or abilities. That’s not confidence or leadership. Too often, arrogance is used as a form of bullying, a use of Power Over others, and a good leader is never a bully instead of relying on their Power Within.

How you present yourself not only allows you to look confident, it will help you tap into your true confidence, which comes from the value and expertise you bring to a meeting. Be aware of the subtle messages you send with your body language, and you will project more self-assurance and show you are a confident leader.


Dress for Success

Last week I blogged on Leading a Great Meeting. Giving a successful presentation can be part of this. As you continue your leadership journey, it is likely you will give more presentations and each one puts your leadership on display.

At first, your audience is the people you work with, whether it’s a lesson you are delivering, speaking to grade, or working with subject level teachers. Over time, your audience will grow, and you won’t know everyone in attendance. Beyond the 5 “P’s” from last week’s blog (to ensure the content, structure, and format will be powerful), you need to look professional. Like it or not, as soon as we step up to make the presentation, the audience will judge us.

Participants make assessments about our knowledge even before we speak. How can we have our audience see us in the best possible light? Although it may sound superficial, dress makes a statement that sets the tone for how we and our message are perceived.

If this is something you’re unsure about, Nick Morgan offers these five tips in What Should a Speaker Wear in 2023?:

  1. Dress slightly better than the audience – If you have ever attended a conference, you may have observed the vendor representatives dress better than attendees. They are making a sales pitch and are dressing to show competence. So are you when you make a presentation.
  2. Dress to fulfill your brand – This is a bit tricky, and you may not want to concern yourself about this tip. The last thing you want to look like is the stereotypical librarian. Think about your audience, what they might expect, and what might make the strongest impression. For example, if your expertise is around building advocates, an appropriate pin might work.
  3. Dress to feel wonderful – Wearing a great outfit changes how we feel and, by extension, how we present ourselves. Select clothes that are not only appropriate but that make you feel terrific and you will send a more upbeat and approachable vibe. Remember to be aware of your surroundings. If you are presenting on a large platform, Stone cautions you to consider whether the lights might make an article of clothing more transparent.
  4. Dress to look good against the backdrop –If possible, find out in advance what you will be standing in front of. If it’s a black background, you don’t want to be wearing black. And if you’re working in front of a green screen for some reason… remember not to wear green! Also remember, many presentations are recorded. When people are watching that later, you want them to be able to see you.
  5. Dress for the moment – After so many Zoom meetings where everyone became more casual in their dress, Stone believes there will be a move toward elegance. Whether or not that prediction is correct, this is a great time to wear a presentation piece of jewelry if you are a woman (not distracting but noticeable) or a bold tie if you are a man. Enjoy the chance to stand out.

My own recommendation is to take this in the spirit of fun. You want to be bringing new possibilities to the audience. If you choose your presentation wardrobe as an exciting part or to reflect you, your joy in the moment will be communicated. Making presentations can be out of your comfort zone. Dressing in a way that makes you feel comfortable and empowered can be a great first step when taking this leadership move.

Become Confident

Leaders are confident. Confidence is the outward manifestation of your trust in yourself. It is an essential ingredient for leadership. When you trust yourself, people trust you. When they do, they will follow and work with you. That doesn’t mean you believe you are always right. You can question your original decision and/or get feedback from others. But you are still confident and recognized as such.

You need confidence when you propose a new program. You need confidence to deal with students who are acting out. You need confidence when you make changes to the facilities in the library. You need confidence to face challenges to your collection. You need confidence to grow. And if you are not growing, you are dying.

But how do you develop confidence?  The Indeed Editorial Team gives some helpful recommendations in Building Self-Confidence: 10 Ways to Boost Your Confidence.

  1. Attend professional development training – The more you know, the more confident you will feel. Going to your state’s school library conference is an important investment in yourself. In addition to the specific knowledge you gain, you also develop a vocabulary that shows you are informed about the topic. The added benefit of attending PD sessions is the connections you make. Building relationships with other librarians is as important as building relationships with people in your building. They are potential mentors, people with whom you can safely vent, and sources of advice and experience.
  2. Learn new skills – Similar to the first, but this can also refer to choosing a specific course or topic. For example, you may feel you could use more help with time management. Or you want to learn more coding so that you can make recommendations to students and teachers. Searching online for some training in this area will make you feel more knowledgeable and therefore more confident.
  3. Dress for success – This outward step has an important impact on your inner self-assurance. Your dress affects your attitude and mindset. Think of elementary kids on picture day. When they are dressed up, they behave much better. When considering this, make sure your clothing does not restrict you from being able to do your job comfortably. If your day requires you to sit on the floor or a low chair, keep that in mind. The way you are dressed transmits a silent subconscious message to others while potentially empowering you.
  4. Leave your comfort zone – Almost everything on this list asks you to take this step. It is key to professional growth. Giving your first presentation is scary. Getting through it is an enormous confidence boost. The Indeed Editorial Team also notes that doing something like a presentation can open the door to new opportunities. Someone in the audience might note something that suggests a new direction. Confidence lies outside of your comfort zone.
  5. Emulate confident peers – Look for role models. Who do you know who appears confident? How do they do it? The authors of the article suggest observing how these people interact with others and incorporating some of their strategies.
  6. Set goals for yourself – As with #2, start with something you want to learn or do and set small goals on your path to achieving it. Each goal you reach builds your confidence and keeps you going.
  7. Focus on your strengths – There are things you already do well. Can you do them better or can you use these skills more? Don’t look for perfection. Keep your focus on improvement Indeed recommends keeping a list of your achievements. (I keep a journal of what I accomplish each day.)
  8. Learn from your mistakes – Mistakes are a good thing – even though they don’t feel that way in the moment. They are part of growing. Mistakes give you information on what’s not working so you can do things differently. Use this information to move forward.
  9. Eliminate negative language – Notice how you treat yourself. We tend to be our own harshest critics. Change that mindset and look to what your accomplishments are and the goals you are working toward. Keeping that journal will help.
  10. Ask questions – Questions are another important part of the growth process. Pretending you understood everything someone said keeps you uninformed. Everything around us is changing at a faster rate than ever. One way to stay on top of what you need to know is by asking questions.

The Indeed Editorial Team had 3 final tips:

  • Take your time,
  • Be persistent, and
  • Keep developing your mindset.

I would add to that: Keep growing; Recognize the value you bring, and Build your PLN. With practice and awareness, confidence is there for you.

Build Your Confidence

Leaders are risk-takers. You can’t make changes or achieve your Vision unless you take risks. But risks imply the possibility of failure. (Did you get a sinking feeling in your stomach?) In order to take on the challenge of stepping out of our comfort zones and taking risks, we need to build our confidence. As with learning anything new, it starts with baby step. Just like exercising, the hardest step is lacing up your sneakers—or in this case, determining to build your confidence and take risks.

In Build Confidence in Yourself and Your Leadership, Gregg Vanourek lists the various benefits of confidence (including improving health and boosting attractiveness and creativity!) and goes on to list these steps for developing self-confidence:

Focus more on areas of our capability and achievement, and less on areas of weakness and struggle—What are you good at? You may be crafty and/or have artistic ability. Use it to decorate a wall outside the library to call attention to it. Do you write well? Try a newsletter. Are you great at tech? Offer an after-school teach-in on a new resource for students or staff.

Set and meet goals that lead to personal and professional accomplishments– If you have big goals (and most of us do), look for the small ones that will get you there. You don’t have to conquer the world on your first forays. Look at your Mission and Vision. What small goal can showcase your Mission and/or get you closer to your Vision?

Switch off negative self-talk, self-criticism, and limiting beliefs—More than any actual circumstance, this is what stops us most of the time. We judge ourselves much more harshly than we would anyone else. Noticing this negative inner dialogue can help us take risks and build confidence.

Swap in positive thoughts for negative ones—Once you’ve taken steps to switch off the negative self-talk, go one step further by talking to yourself as though you were speaking to a friend. Look to previous successes, positive feedback, and glowing responses.

Face our fears and, in the process, build a sense of agency and capability–What is the worst that can go wrong? Whatever you think that might be, you will recover, learn, and be wiser the next time. You can use the experience to bolster your creativity.

Stop the unhealthy practice of comparing ourselves to othersNever compare your insides to someone else’s outsides. Typically, we focus on their strengths and don’t notice that, like you, they have weaknesses, too. (And you never know when they may see your strengths and compare themselves to you.)

Continue learning, growing, developing, and building new capacities—Work on areas of weaknesses, but also build your strengths. Our world and our profession are constantly evolving. Grow with it.

Engage in consistent self-care practicesYou can’t feel confident if you feel drained and exhausted. Make yourself a priority. You have heard this before. Knowing that increased confidence is a byproduct may make you more willing to take care of yourself.

Speak up for ourselves (self-advocacy)—This can be challenging, but it’s a necessary part of leadership. Remember, it’s not about you. It’s for your program. Look for ways to showcase and promote it to as wide an audience as you can.

Stop thinking in terms of fixed traits (e.g., “I’ve always been bad at math” or “I’m not a confident person”)—Have you ever thought “I am not a leader”? Let go of this belief. You are if you are willing to be. And your students, teachers, and program need you to be a leader.

Think about a time when we felt high confidence and ask how we’d act if we were feeling that way now—You have been successful in the past. How did you feel? You are still that person. Tap into that feeling, remember that energy, and use it going forward.

We know that failure is part of the learning process. We teach that to our students. Yet, when it comes to our own behaviors, we stop short. All we see is the possibility (probability) of making mistakes. Confidence is a combination of mindset and efficacy–the knowledge that you have the ability and the resources needed to complete a task or goal. Have confidence in your knowledge and resources and go for your goals!

ON LIBRARIES: Leading and Planning With Confidence

With the new school year already started or starting soon, many of you are asking yourselves how will this year be better than last year?  The often quoted saying of Charles H. Spurgeon, “Begin as you mean to go on and go on as you began,” suggests you need to have a plan.  And to execute a plan, you need confidence. Confidence in yourself.  Confidence in the power of your Vision and Mission Statement.  Confidence in knowing you are a Leader.

Gaining that confidence can be easier said than done.  If you feel overwhelmed by self-doubt or are prone to beating yourself up it’s going to be challenging to reach your goals. Instead of putting yourself in that position, start this year off differently by building the confidence you need to propel yourself forward.

In an article entitled What You Can Do to Build Confidence, Joe Baldoni poses three questions to get you on the right track. By reflecting on and answering them, you will also have a plan, and when you confidently plan for your program, you demonstrate your leadership.

The three big questions are:

  1. What do I want to achieve next? Dream big as you list what you would most like to achieve. When your list is complete, see which are most aligned with your Vision and Mission statements. Which one connects most closely with your passion about the library program?

From this, you can build your goal for the year.  Now you have some more questions to ask yourself. What will it take to get there? If money is required, where can you get it? Grants? Donors?  If additional help is needed or you want to be working with certain teachers or community members, how can you enroll them into wanting to be part of the plan?

Next, create a timeline.  Reverse engineering is great for this. Work backward starting with the completion.  What step is necessary before that?  And before that one?  Keep doing it until you get to the beginning.

When you set the plan into motion, keep track of the start – and end – dates of your various steps.  If something starts or ends later than planned (and that’s bound to happen at some point), you will need to make some adjustments.  Do formative assessment noting where things are working or not working and tweak your plan as needed.

  1. What will I do if I encounter resistance? Nothing ever goes exactly as planned. What will you do if one of the people you want to enroll in the project refuses to be a part of it? Who do you have as your Plan B?  Plan C?  You chose this plan because you believed in it.  Don’t quit on it.

Who are the people who most support you? You need to have them in your corner as you go forward.  Do you have a mentor?  That person can be a great sounding board when things go off-kilter. Make plans to check in with her/him on a regular basis for support and encouragement.

How do you react when you are frustrated?  Be prepared for that occurring and have a strategy for combatting it.  Strategies include reaching out for support, meditation or mantras, taking a walk or time with a coloring book. Find what works for you. You may discover the solution to the problem may be an improvement. Remember not to let changes or the unexpected throw you off of your overall plan and goal. Success is rarely, if ever, a straight line.

  1. What do I expect to learn about myself? This is a most interesting question. It recognizes the importance of reflection.  It also speaks to the first question as to why this particular goal was important to you. The question is also a reminder that whether you are wildly successful with your plan or it doesn’t come to fruition, if you take time to look at the whole, you will learn something about yourself.  How are you in creating relationships?  How do you deal with those who don’t agree with you?

Analyze how high your emotional intelligence was throughout the project. What was your fallback response when things don’t go your way? What new strengths did you discover about yourself?  When you notice these things you’ll build your confidence foundation and find it stronger in the future.

The truth is, you have many reasons to be confident.  You have a variety of skills, talents, and experience. Draw on them as you plan.  And always have a plan in place.  As Benjamin Franklin said, (or any number of others who are attributed to having said this in one version or another), “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Or in the words of the well-known philosopher, Yogi Berra, “If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up someplace else.”

And one small tip, particularly for those who haven’t returned to school yet: Make an appointment with your principal. Discuss your plan now while things are relatively quiet.  Keep the meeting short.  Follow up with a brief e-mail or note (handwritten notes have such meaning these days) thanking her/him for the time and reiterating what was discussed.  It often is the best way to get a project off to a great start.

Have a wonderful year everyone.

ON LIBRARIES: What Do You Project

We all send out and receive non-verbal messages.  It is why we make almost instantaneous decisions as to whether we like or dislike someone we just met.  Something may change our minds eventually, but part of that first assessment is almost always there.

If you want your administration to regard you as indispensable, you must project that.  It’s subtle and will affect all your interactions.  But first, you must honestly believe you are indispensable. The good news is, as with other aspects of leadership, you don’t have to be born with the ability to project strength, professionalism.  It can be learned. The hard part is learning to retrain your brain. 

What you project is all about your mindset.  Remember that old truism supposedly said by Henry Ford, “If you think you can, or you think you can’t—you are right.”  Our thoughts either limit us or set us free to grow.  A statistics professor I knew at a library school told a student who said she would take her “C” here (since she was limited to two C’s in order to graduate), she just guaranteed she wouldn’t do better than that.

Positive self-talk is vital.  Stop focusing on where you are not doing well and celebrate your achievements – no matter how small.  I keep a Success Journal.  Every day I note where I have succeeded at something.  Some days I only list two successes.  Other days I might have five.  But I see where I succeed every day.

LaRae Quy lists Confidence, Persistence, Dedication, and Control in her article 4 Secrets of a Strong Mind and writes how these characteristics will take you far.  Here’s how they play out in our world.

You won’t be taken seriously if you are not projecting confidence.  This is not the same thing as being a know-it-all.  It does mean you know what your job is, believe you do it very well, and are prepared to demonstrate that.  I had a principal tell me, “You be the expert, or I will be the expert.”  I answered, “I am the expert.”

Quy says, “Confidence is a belief in yourself and your ability to meet your goals. Push out of your comfort zone and expose yourself to different situations. Learn how to push through the uncomfortable.” Remember, it’s what you believe about yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone.

Persistence means you don’t give up. You try another tactic. A superintendent once confided in me that her first answer was always, “No.” because most people went away and didn’t come back.  I always did which convinced her I was serious and knew what I wanted and why.  It also showed her I would carry the project through and not waste the money – which was a big factor in all her decisions.

Quy says, “Persistence is the tendency is to see life’s obstacles as challenges to be met, rather than as threats. Don’t whine, point fingers or blame others for your predicament. You can be the hero of your own life and choose your destiny.” Become creative.  Keep putting forward what your program needs.  Whatever it takes.

Dedication is an easy one for us.  We really care about what we do, and we show it. Many of you come in early and stay late. It’s about living your Philosophy of the library program and the values of our profession. They guide you in your decisions along with your Mission and Vision.

Quy says, “Strong-minded people have a dedication that comes from a purpose in alignment with their deepest values.” I think most of you do.  Now you have to see that in yourself which will help you project it.

Control is not a word I usually like, but Quy uses it to mean closing out negative thoughts. It’s back to a positive mindset.  Have a goal you work toward and record every small success you have in getting there. Don’t listen to nay-sayers—particularly the one in your brain.  You have achieved much.  You can and will achieve more. Quy says, “Control is having a certainty that you are able to shape your destiny and not passively accepting events as fate.”

I have added Quy’s words and ideas my ever-growing list of leadership qualities. And just to show you more how they manifest in my world, I am under 4’11’’ and yet my mail carrier commented recently, “You are one powerful lady.”  He doesn’t know anything about my professional life, but he “got” what I project. When I was still a high school librarian my principal and the curriculum supervisors responded to that, giving me the respect and attention necessary to carry out and grow the library program.

Everything we do is a choice.  Choose to see yourself as powerful and indispensable.  Remind yourself whenever you can it’s true. Believe it and others will see you that way.

ON LIBRARIES: Are You Confident?

confidence2Leaders are confident. Not arrogant.  Not bullies riding roughshod over others, just confident. They trust themselves and, while they listen to others, they don’t constantly second guess their decisions.

Confidence is a natural part of leadership. Who would follow someone who was uncertain and continually thought, “Well maybe we should do it this way instead?” This doesn’t mean good leaders don’t alter their course or tweak a plan. However, they do it in a well-thought out reasoned way.

Since I advocate that leading is not an option but a job requirement for school librarians, I have come to recognize developing confidence is a necessary prelude to becoming a leader.  Leadership seems a difficult challenge for many and idea that you can become confident seems equally remote.  If you are in that situation, I have some suggestions.

Dress with Confidencedress for success

In this context, it means dress like a leader.  People react to visual messages before they hear the verbal ones.  See how teacher and administrators dress and emulate them. You don’t have to go over the top, but avoid clothes that don’t fit well or send a conflicting message.

Anyone who has worked in an elementary school is aware of the different building climate on “picture day.”  Students dress up and without anyone saying anything their behavior improves and becomes more orderly.  Dressing up for a prom sets the tone making it a special day.  We all dress for a dinner at a fine restaurant.

Clothes affect how we think about ourselves and how we act.  For those who aren’t confident, dressing as though you are helps you “fake it till you make it.”

Speak with Confidence

You might not know where to begin with this, but there is an easy first step.  Monitor how you end a sentence when expressing an idea.  Does your voice go up as though you are asking a question?  This speech pattern has become common particularly with women and girls.  It implies you are uncertain about what you are saying.

Become familiar with educational and library issues.  AASL’s and your state association’s web page report on these.  They give background information.  From there you can pick up the language in use.  Talk to a mirror at home about these topics.  When you speak without too many pauses, needing time to re-check the information, you are ready to share your “expert” opinion on the issues. And you will sound confident.

gears of confidenceProject Optimism

Confident people are optimistic.  The current climate in most schools has caused even those who aren’t pessimists by nature to develop a negative outlook. Search for the positives.  This doesn’t mean be a Pollyanna who sees life only through rose-colored glasses. Being realistic is important.  But remember nothing in life stays constant.  You don’t have to be in education too long before you realize change is always happening.

For example, you can point out that the stresses caused by Common Core and PARCC testing has roused parents.  They are now working with teachers and are putting pressure on districts and the state to make changes.  Note that ESSA has been passed and this will make a difference in the educational landscape.  While the shift will probably cause additional stress, you will be there to help them adapt and work through them. And since you have been on the AASL and your state association website, you will be current with where ESSA is and where it’ going.

Adjust your attitude. Whether or not you are a person who likes affirmations, start each day with a positive thought. Think of seeing a teacher or a class you like to work with.  Focus on the parts of your job that you love.  Yes, there will be incidents that pull you off, but just get back to why you became a librarian.

Ask for Helpconfidence

This sounds counter-intuitive, but remember confident people listen to others. It’s how you ask that makes the difference.  Instead of saying, “I am supposed to do this, but I have no idea what to do,” say, “I am working on this and would like you input as I value your opinion,”

Check with your PLN.  Librarians are an incredibly helpful, supportive group. Ask for suggestions and opinions (we have some great conversations on the School Librarian’s Workshop Facebook page!).  You will get a vast amount of valuable assistance.  In turn, be ready to help others.  It will build your confidence.

One final piece of advice.  Smile – and mean it.  It goes a long way to projecting confidence.