Leaders as Learners: Cultivating Confidence
Interview with Alli Polin, certified leadership coach, consultant & speaker
[Editor’s Note: As founder of the leadership consulting and coaching firm, Break the Frame, Alli’s work and personal life philosophy epitomize authentic, heart-based living and leadership, as she teaches clients how to make the leap to a more powerful and purposeful future. Recognizing that it takes tremendous confidence to ‘break the frame’ and step up and into one’s own voice and leadership, I invited Alli to share her own thoughts on confidence and specific steps women and girls can take to develop the self-confidence necessary to overcome challenges and follow their dreams.
This is the third interview in the series, Leaders as Learners, that invites global thought leaders to take a deeper dive into the 16 principles of the Global Girls Project and their application to women and girls’ empowerment.]
(Sharon): Alli, how do you define confidence? How is confidence cultivated?
(Alli): Fantastic question, Sharon! Confidence is not about having all the answers, that’s arrogance. It’s recognition that no one has all the answers and consistently approaching challenges with a willingness to try. Truly, confidence is an inner belief, a deep-seated trust, that success is possible.
In one of your daughter Alli’s recent “Alli Asks” posts, she wrote that confidence is like having “bird’s wings” that can take you anywhere and I think she’s spot on. Cultivating confidence is really about learning to fly, step-by-step, noticing, learning and integrating what works. Every time you master a step, you can move to the next one with the confidence that you can tackle it because you know that you tackled the last. Ultimately, as confidence builds, it’s time to put it all together and soar.
(Sharon): These days there’s more pressure than ever for women and girls to achieve success and independence, often defined by external labels of success and material worth. In your opinion, what is the relationship between external labels of success or achievement and intrinsic self-worth when it comes to cultivating confidence?
(Alli): I think it’s OK to want something special to mark a success or remember a milestone, but it really matters how that reward is used moving forward; is it simply a collection of bling and things or a private celebration of achievement? When it comes to cultivating confidence, the physical rewards can serve as reminders that you’ve got what it takes to continue on a path to success.
The real problem comes when you’re working hard just to keep up with the material rewards that everyone else is showing off. In my opinion, people who throw their material wealth around the most actually have the least confidence and are using physical objects to fill their self-worth void. The global recession in recent years has shown us how fleeting material wealth can be but your things are not who you are – you, and your life story, can never be erased.
(Sharon): What role do positive parenting, role models, and/or access to education and opportunity play in developing self-confidence? How do girls develop self-confidence in the absence of these resources?
Years ago, I was in a college seminar and I told my peers that I was applying for jobs in business. They asked, “You’re a liberal arts major. What makes you think you can get a job in business?” My confident and decisive answer came quickly, “Because my parents never told me that I couldn’t.”
When others believe in us, help to build our strength, and not simply point out all of our obstacles and short comings, we start to believe as well. Parents, educators and community leaders, all play a vital role in cultivating confidence in girls and young women. Girls can develop confidence in the absence of these resources first and foremost by supporting each other. Far too often other girls put down their peers as a way to make themselves feel better about who they are. Girls can build each other’s confidence through the genuine and unyielding belief that we are far stronger together than we are alone.
(Sharon): In 2012, you left a secure, high-paying corporate role in Washington, D.C. to move to the Outback in Australia. What role did confidence play in this decision and your ability to adapt to a completely new environment?
(Alli): Every single person I met thought I was crazy going from Vice President in a Fortune 500 organization to running my business from the Australian Outback. I was asked over and over what I’ll do if it’s awful, I hate it and start to fail? Instead of buying-in to these negative what-if scenarios, I turned to confidence. Honestly, it never crossed my mind that I’d hate it, how could I? I was going on an adventure and part of adventure is embracing the unknown with the confidence that I can handle whatever comes my way.
(Sharon): In your consulting and coaching business, Break the Frame, you help people and organizations make the leap to a more powerful and purposeful future. Taking this leap requires confidence! What advice do you have for other women and girls who may be struggling to cultivate the confidence to exercise their own voice and leadership in this world?
(Alli): My top piece of advice is to never be intimidated or think that you’re less-than anyone else. Your value and leadership has very little to do with a title. If you’re always looking and waiting for others to validate you, you’ll often be disappointed. I had worked for years to finally get the promotion to Vice President. What shocked me the most was that people started to treat me differently. They were nervous, initially intimidated and concerned that they had to make me feel good. That may have been a reflection of their experiences with others, but was a terrible mismatch for how I saw us in relationship… human beings, equals, each doing our best work and showing up as our full-selves.
Here’s the truth: The world needs you and your voice in it. Have the confidence that you are enough, right now, just as you are, to make a difference.
(Sharon): What specific steps can women and girls take to develop the self-confidence necessary to overcome challenges and follow their dreams?
(Alli): You have the ability and it’s up to you to use the resources you have to define, create and walk the path that you most want to travel. It can be intimidating, and a confidence buster, to only see how far you have to go. Once you know where you’re headed, identify the first small steps and take action, try. Every time you put yourself out there, every step forward, gives you the confidence to take the next, and the next.
Lastly, your challenges are most-definitely unique to you but everyone has challenges. It’s your confidence, your inner-belief, that there is a way around your challenges, to overcome them and to achieve success that matters the most. Still, will every step be perfect, a straight shot to success? No, you’re going to fail, falter, turn around and meander your way forward. When you’re unsure if you can take one more step, call forth your resilience, self-confidence, and self-compassion to keep moving towards your vision.