A few weeks ago, I watched Malala Yousafzai accept the Nobel Peace Prize. At seventeen, she is the youngest person to ever become a Nobel Laureate. She didn’t betray even a shred of nervousness as she delivered her speech to an auditorium full of international leaders and dignitaries, cameras broadcasting her ideas to the world. I felt a wave of admiration for her confidence pass over me as I watched. I have been a teenager myself and parented three teenage girls. This kind of poise in a high-pressure situation is almost unheard of, especially for girls.
I started to think about this question: what gives some people this kind of confidence? Confidence is one of the key features of successful leaders. It’s clearly something we have to cultivate, but so intangible. I’ve chatted with pastors’ wives and church girls who struggle with this, particularly when it comes to getting up in front of a crowd of people. They are often intelligent, beautiful, well-spoken girls, who just don’t see public ministry as their thing. It makes their voice quiver and their hands shake. They are content with behind-the-scenes leadership.
This is totally fine if this is what you are called to do. I’m certainly not advocating that every girl needs to be good at preaching to be effective at ministry. Leading a team, however, will require that we have the skill set and the confidence to lead a meeting, whether small or large. We need confidence to make tough choices, and to confront the things that need changing. Some of us girls, comfortable in the background, need to start saying yes to husbands who push us to speak up in church. To do that, we need to develop greater confidence.
We all have insecurities that rob confidence, and I am no different from the next person. We can change the externals with the right outfit, the perfect makeup and hair, or being seen with the right people. These things can help us put a brave face on it. True confidence, however, comes from the inside. It makes us attractive and real to people. After a few days of contemplation, I’ve come up with five things that have helped increase my confidence over the years.
1. Get a fresh revelation that you are treasured by the one whose opinion matters most.
I will never forget those months when my husband, John, started dating me. He was decisive and deliberate in his pursuit of me, no games. I felt incredible, desired and valued. When a real man pursues you, it brings with it a whole new level of confidence. You feel smarter, more beautiful—more everything. When I’m with John, I feel confidence from his support and his value. If you have ever experienced this, you know what I mean. If you have never experienced this, don’t worry. You get an even stronger rush of confidence from the revelation of just how important you are to Jesus.
The Psalmists struggled to express how vast the love God has for us is. They described it as so great that it reaches to the skies. God told us that we belong to him, that he considers us treasure, his mostly highly prized creation. “You shall be My own peculiar possession and treasure from among and above all peoples.” (Exodus 19:5 AMP) He feels incredibly protective of us as his treasure. “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies sent me against the nations who plundered you. For he said, ‘Anyone who harms you harms my most precious possession.’” (Zechariah 2:8 NLT)
He is willing to sacrifice what is most dear to be with us forever, to cover our imperfections with love. “For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He [even] gave up His only begotten (unique) Son, so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life.” (John 3:16 AMP) This was not grudgingly given as a bailout, but given with great joy. “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.’” (Zephaniah 3:17 NIV)
Understanding that the most powerful being in the universe is completely gaga about you, just as you are, brings confidence to your heart. It causes your shoulders to straighten a bit, and your chin to lift, and a little smile to hover around the corners of your mouth in every-day circumstances. That kind of man is pursuing you. You must be pretty awesome.
2. Know that what you do matters: you have a very great cause.
Malala Yousafzai is Pakistani. She grew up in the Swat Valley with parents who are educators. The Taliban gained influence in the region during her childhood, and ruled her valley by the time she was eleven years old. As one of their first acts, the Taliban decreed that no girls would be allowed to go to school. Malala started a blog advocating for education for girls and has continued to work as an activist since then. Two years ago, she was shot in the head by a Taliban agent and survived. Two weeks ago, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. You can watch her acceptance speech here. As I mentioned earlier, she is remarkably poised and confident.
What is the difference between Malala and every other seventeen-year-old girl? Why is she so confident? She has facial scarring from being shot, is from a backward part of the planet, without the family connections that could teach her grace and poise. She has every reason to be a shrinking violet, inspiring but retiring. She has one thing though. She is deeply passionate about a very righteous cause—the right for every girl to get an education.
When the Philistine giant champion, Goliath, threatened the armies of Israel, David stepped up for the fight. His older brother saw his confidence and accused him of arrogance. David’s response was simple but so profound. “And David said, “What have I done now? Is there not a cause?” (I Samuel 17:29 NKJV) A great cause gives us great confidence.
Sometimes we minimize the importance of our work in church. Leaders may hesitate to encroach on people’s busy schedules and family time. We need to draw on the confidence that comes from deep passion for the great cause of salvation. People nearby have an urgent need to hear the truth of Jesus’s saving grace. Is there not a cause? Remembering the urgency of our cause makes us very confident.
3. Think the right thoughts: Choose to view the team around you as an extension of your abilities instead of competition.
We females are notorious comparers. We walk into a room and check out who is prettier; who is thinner; who is more talented. Ladies are notorious for picking on the pretty girls. We have to change our mindset about this, and stop thinking of these girls as a threat.
Paul said we run this race in such a way as to win a prize. This race, however, is more like a relay than a hundred meter sprint. It’s a team race. We only win when we make sure a bunch of other people cross the finish line with us. Because this is true, the people on our team are not the competition. The leaders at the big church in town are not our competition.
If you take a sense of ownership of what the team achieves as a whole, who gets the credit matters far less. You can be excited for the achievement of others, and the strengths of others, because this improves what the team accomplishes. Their abilities make your efforts more effective. You won’t be as nervous to get up in front of gifted leaders if you take as much pride in their work as in your own. In this kind of environment, no one is judging or evaluating anyone else. We are working together toward a common vision.
This thought can build great confidence. You don’t have to be the best at everything, or even the best at one thing to lead. We can find confidence in the fact that we have awesome people working with us, supporting us.
4. Find the balance: Care what people think but don’t care what people think.
This sounds confusing, but it’s true. We have to care what people think if our job is to influence people. The way they respond to us matters. But there is a difference between caring what people think and caring so much that you internalize their rejection. Okay so maybe it’s still fuzzy. This is what I mean: If I am so worried about what people think about me that in an effort to impress someone, I change who I seem to be, I’ve crossed a line. At that point, I’ve cared too much what people think about me. On the other hand, someone needs to be following where I lead, so I have to pay attention to what is happening around me.
So how do you do find the right balance? This comes from a soul that is rooted deep in Christ. He defines our ideals. If you shape your identity to look like Christ, who you are is never in question. When you know who you are, you don’t change depending on whom you are with.
Our culture is obviously obsessed with celebrity, aka fame and fortune. Unfortunately, people who have achieved this certainly aren’t guaranteed happiness, latest case in point being the tragic and sad death of Robin Williams. We don’t have to work the room or chase the right connections in an effort to be someone important. It’s this simple: Know what you are called to do, and do it. Invitations to minister somewhere else do not validate your ministry. Fruit validates your ministry—the fruit of your life and character, and the fruit of what you have cultivated in people’s lives.
Everyone will have an opinion about our leadership, and every opinion will be different. To some extent, you have to shut out the voices and just push forward. On the other hand, we need Godly coaching, and we need to make sure someone is following where we lead. Understanding this balancing act and getting it right produces confidence.
5. Keep going
Have you ever noticed that old people have no verbal filter? My eighty-four year old grandma will say anything. This is sometimes good and sometimes bad. She swears like a sailor, but in between, pops out great nuggets of wisdom that I treasure. Things like, “The best mom you can be is a happy mom. Do what makes you happy.” Then she drops the S-bomb two minutes later. Experience has given her confidence to speak her mind.
Practically nothing builds confidence like practice. When you have done something a thousand times, you know you can do it. You know your material, and it’s easy to pop into the familiar rhythms. If you just keep going and don’t quit, you will develop experience. If you keep educating yourself and practicing, you will get better. Experience and growth develop confidence.
We all fail sometimes; it comes with the territory. Don’t freak out about it. Just stay focused on vision for the future instead of failures of the past. The longer you are in this journey, the better and stronger you will become. This will produce greater leadership confidence in you.