Last month, I wrote about the rising recognition of emotional intelligence as a key factor in successful leadership using the new movie “Inside Out” to illustrate points about anger and self-management. Now, I turn to “The Sound of Music” for an assist in addressing another competency of emotional intelligence: self-confidence. In the movie, young novice Maria tentatively begins her journey to be governess to seven children. She has no experience and is forced to leave everything she knows. In the song “I Have Confidence,” Maria sets her intention for how to handle the new situation, telling herself that she will stop self-doubting, be firm but kind, face her mistakes, and earn respect, adding that, “While I show them I’ll show me.” The “me” part is key. In this way, Maria employs positive self-talk to overcome her lack of courage, acknowledging that the most critical person in the self-assurance equation is herself. So when she later encounters obstacles—the heavy gates of the mansion she must physically push open, coldness of staff members, pranks played on her by the children and her seemingly cruel new boss—she need only look within for confidence.

“The Sound of Music” turned 50 this year. It is considered one of the most beloved films ever made. There are many reasons, and among them are the central themes of doing the right thing when it’s hard, speaking up for what we believe in when it’s risky, taking responsibility and adapting to strange new environments, as we all do when we move out of the house, get a job, or handle a big case. “I Have Confidence” is a vehicle for moving the character of Maria from scared and intimidated to determined and influential. Throughout the song, she challenges herself by asking questions like, “Why am I so scared?” During the film we see how confidence serves her and everyone else. I have worked with clients struggling with fear and helped them find their “I Have Confidence” moments and mantras. The good news is that self-confidence can be improved through awareness and practice and there are good reasons for attending to it.

Self-confidence is an important component of success. Timidity is no ally when doing professional work, where we trade on expertise and skill. Clients need to have confidence in our services. When a person has difficulty making eye contact, delegating or speaking up, they unwittingly communicate an inability to lead. Conversely, some people attempt to hide their lack of self-assurance by assuming a dictatorial style for fear of being questioned and to close down communication because they dread it. This style is equally ineffective in leadership roles because tyrants fail to inspire or create cultures of innovation, influence and solidarity. No matter what your current role is, it is never too early or too late to establish a reputation as an effective leader.

In “The Role of Self-Confidence in Emotional Intelligence,” Emily A. Sterrett writes that it is always present in people we admire and respect. “Self-confidence is a positive and balanced attitude having to do with the self dimension. It consists of a basic belief that we can do what is needed to produce the desired outcome. When obstacles occur, a person with a confident attitude continues to work to overcome the barriers, whereas someone lacking in self-confidence is not likely to persevere and might not even begin something,” she writes.

Low self-confidence is born out of inaccurate assessments of self-worth and listening to our inner critics, who have a lot to say about how we handle things. Relly Nadler, in the article “Confidence: Are You on Your Case or on Your Side?” in Psychology Today, writes that many leaders have flawed self-evaluation processes. “They are rarely satisfied when successful and are overly critical of their performance even if they win and win big. This can become a rigid pattern. In the past it may have driven them to great successes, but over time it can become a burden. … It is as if they have a calculator that is defective, but they do not realize it is always off one digit. When evaluating themselves, the calculator should read 1,000, but instead it reads 100. They get upset about the reading, but don’t realize their evaluation system is faulty or broken.”

There are two elements to improving self-confidence: becoming aware of a critical style of self-talk and replacing it with more objective, realistic assessments of your value. I had a client who was starting her own business and had many connections in a position to refer work, but she did not want to initiate conversations for fear of being a nuisance. When asked how she felt about calling people, she said, “I hate it,” but when asked how she feels when others call her, she said she likes it and enjoys helping. This led to increased awareness of the dual lens she was using to view life—one for herself and another for everyone else. Over time, she became assertive and successful. Here are strategies for improving self-regard and finding your Maria moments:

  • Make a point of listening to how you talk to yourself.
  • When you do a great job, do you celebrate or downplay it? Are you able to say “well done” to yourself as you might to a colleague? If you make a mistake, do you use labeling language like “loser”? Beating yourself up will take a toll on confidence. You cannot have high self-regard until you are willing to own that there are things you do exceptionally well. Collecting data is often the first step in change. Ask yourself questions. What went well? What could I do better in the future? What steps can I take to improve performance?
  • Make a list of your accomplishments and things you know you do well.
  • Also consider asking trusted friends for input on what they see as your top strengths. High self-regard will manifest with accurate self-recognition. Review your list regularly.
  • Act as if you do have self-confidence.
  • The axiom “fake it till you make it” does work. A young lawyer asked me recently, “How do I fake it when I don’t even know how to yet?” The idea is not to misrepresent your skills or expertise, but to behave in a more self-assured manner. Another client chose a highly confident person at work who she admired and began trying some of the behaviors she noticed. Is there someone like that in your life?
  • When fear is standing in the way, ask yourself, what is the worst that can happen?
  • When you go to the worst-case scenario it is always something you can handle.
  • Look for opportunities to try speaking up, asking for help or whatever else has been daunting for you.
  • Hold yourself accountable by starting a log of intentions and efforts. Be specific so you can measure improvement, such as committing to share an opinion you have about an agenda topic at the next meeting you attend.
  • Let your wardrobe play a supporting role.
  • Wearing good clothes that fit well will give your self-confidence a boost. Make a point of catching glimpses of yourself throughout the day to cement the image of you as a poised, positive professional.
  • Clients who develop positive self-regard at work usually find that it impacts every area of life and that they get more of what they want because they aren’t afraid to ask for it.


Reprinted with permission from the August 27, 2015 edition of “The Legal Intelligencer” © 2015 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. For information, contact 877-257-3382, or visit