The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Diversity | Leadership

November 2013
Feign confidence until you feel naturally more powerful

By Elizabeth Handover

Having recently stayed in the Sparkling Hill Resort in Kelowna, Canada, for the Lumina Learning Global Conference, I was touched by President and General Manager Hans-Peter Mayr’s quiet confidence and his perseverance in having worked through the many challenges he faced in creating his dream crystal-infused hotel and wellness center.

The Harvard Business Review explores whether, as a leader, it is more important to have the qualities of fearsomeness (strength and competence) or lovable characteristics (warmth and trustworthiness).

There is much research demonstrating that these two elements drive our emotional perception of leaders and their ability to influence situations. Further, these dimensions account for more than 90 percent of our overall impression of people.

Research by Princeton University’s Amy Cuddy, and Lawrence University’s Susan Fiske and Peter Glick, indicates that those who show high strength/competence but little warmth can get people to follow but won’t earn real engagement and support.

However, those who are warm and likeable but weak and/or incompetent can easily elicit trust and support but won’t earn respect, and may be overlooked.

Thus, leaders need both warmth and strength, while behavioral research increasingly indicates that warmth should be the most important factor.

When leaders demonstrate warmth, we trust that they have our interests at heart and have positive intentions toward us. When they demonstrate strength, we trust that they have the ability to act on those intentions.

Within these two elements lies an important clue to the difficulties that women may struggle with while on a leadership path.

In her book, Lean In, COO of Facebook Sheryl Sandberg explores how women are often afraid of success, fearing that they will have to “sacrifice being liked for being successful.”

Early in her career, Sandberg was told by Mark Zuckerberg, chairman and CEO of Facebook, that her desire to be liked by everyone would hold her back.

Sandberg confesses in her bestselling book that she still struggles with being called “powerful.”

In addition, females sometimes display physical behavior that may signal weaknesses, and which subtly undermines them when trying to demonstrate strength.

Unconscious bias and gender stereotyping play a part in what being strong really means and how strength is perceived in an organization.

Confidence, or the lack of it, has a bearing on the degree to which women experience the fear of being perceived as powerful. We can’t wave a magic wand to bring instant self-confidence, but we can use some basic techniques used in theater to help fake confident behavior that will help us achieve genuine confidence.

If you are interested in more confidence-raising techniques, please come to the “Women in the Workplace: Building Confidence through Awareness and Action” workshop to be held on November 26 at the Tokyo American Club.

Stand up to your full height and imagine a thread passing from the sky to the crown of your head and through your spine to the floor.

Feel the floor under your feet, let your hands relax by your sides, breathe slowly and calmly, and be aware of how much taller you are becoming and how much space you are taking up. Allow yourself to appreciate this feeling.

Now do the opposite. Let the stance go, allow your spine to bend, your head to go down, and your shoulders to sag. Say “I feel great” and listen to how insignificant you actually sound.

Repeat the first stance and say “I feel great” again. Listen to how much stronger you sound.

Practice this for a few minutes every day and savor feeling natural and congruent in your new power stance.

Try saying longer sentences each time, so you get used to speaking while you stand in your new, powerful pose.

Take this into the workplace. Use it when you face a challenging situation, need to influence a senior stakeholder, or make a presentation. Watch your confidence and strength grow as you work at it each day.


Elizabeth Handover is co-chair of the Women in Business Committee and president of Intrapersona K.K., Lumina Learning Asia Partner.