The most assertive people I know are babies and billionaires. Babies demand attention when they’re hungry or have a dirty diaper, and great wealth isn’t acquired by those who think about questions but never ask them. I have an example – during the opening-night reception for the King Tut exhibit at the Dallas Museum of Art the hushed crowd flowed into the signature room containing the King’s greatest treasures. An older man wandered in, and in a loud, familiar voice, asked, “Where’s the Mummy?” I turned around and found Ross Perot standing in the doorway.
In business, speaking, presenting, selling, and networking are common sources of stress. When a leader reacts calmly, and confidently to a stressful encounter, their emotional intelligence and leadership strengths shine.
Self-confidence is about overcoming fear. Fear motivates us, but it can also disable us, through panic, or over longer periods through the corrosive effects from elevated stress. Inoculation is a process to induce immunity from panic. Inoculation increases our ability to manage fear and to operate effectively when we’re exposed to the fear-inducing thing. Stunt pilots are trained to fly an airplane upside down, just a few feet off the ground, without engine power, while Firefighters learn to navigate hazards in the dark during simulations in a “burn tower.” Paramedics and ER physicians don’t panic when they have two minutes left to stabilize a trauma patient. All of these people were exposed to conditions that simulated their worst-case scenarios to teach them how to respond. They developed reflexsive responses to save themselves and others from serious harm.
Good leaders know that you can reduce fear by pushing rising-stars in front of an audience to speak or being tasked with a presentation for the Board of Directors, or leading a project for a Senior Vice President. Inoculation against our fears expose courage, and assertiveness is the way we demonstrate it every day. Fear is in our minds most of the time.
Here are a few actions you can take that will increase your courage, and innoculate you against fear – be polite, but be assertive:
- In situations with lots of people including conferences, conventions, and large internal meetings – reintroduce yourself to people you should know. And if you can’t remember their name lead with this “Hi – my name is…, I know we’ve met, but I’ve forgotten your name!”
- Always let someone know if their out-of-office message has expired. When you check in to a hotel ask, “Is there anything I can do to receive a complimentary upgrade?”
- Stop eating food that wasn’t prepared the way you asked, and send it back to the kitchen.
- Spend time with a few people who seem to be fearless and watch what they do.
And if you’re still looking for something to really push your limits try a ToughMudder race – they offer great confidence challenges.
Over time you’re self-confidence will increase and situations you once viewed as stressful will become normal parts of your day.