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Nonprofit Leaders – Do You Know the Confidence Code?

As a shy introvert, I have no idea what confidence looks like. I feel brave when I ask the waiter for the check. Yet, when I quiz people about the essential qualities of a leader, almost everyone says “confidence.”

Confidence can also be a challenge for some nonprofit leaders. It is not uncommon for volunteers and line staff to be promoted up the ladder and one day discover that they are the development or executive director. It’s a whirlwind of new responsibilities, and now you’re the one calling the shots. You want to be a confident leader, but you sure don’t feel that way!

There’s good news: confidence be developed! The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman is an incredibly articulate book about how to be more confident. In it, they explore the science and the art of self-assurance. In the section called “Meet the Confidence Cousins,” they describe four positive attributes which are essential for confidence.


Self-esteem has gotten a bad rap. I think of the posters in my middle school that said “Believe in yourself” or “You can reach for the stars!” The concept has turned into a joke. But Kay and Shipman say that self-esteem is a value judgment on your overall character. And whether we like it or not, our judgment of our character affects our performance. If you believe you’re lousy with numbers, can’t talk to people, or are terrible at leadership, odds are you’ll act on those beliefs. But if you believe you’re engaging, likeable, and persuasive, then you’ll be that kind of leader.


There’s a wonderful quote by Winston Churchill: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” Optimism is the key to risk-taking (because optimists always believe things will work out!). To effectively guide the direction of your nonprofit, you have to believe that your decisions will end positively. Optimistic leaders see the best in their staff, the best in their difficulties, and the best in themselves.


While self-esteem is valuing who you are, self-compassion is forgiving yourself when you mess up. Tons of people (myself included) will beat themselves up when they do something dumb at work. But a confident leader will view the mistake as a learning experience (also an optimism thing) and give themselves grace. A leader can’t move their organization forward when they’re stuck in the past.


Kay and Shipman describe this as the “get ‘er done” quality of the confidence family. Self-efficacy is, as the authors describe it, a belief in your ability to succeed at something. This trait is goal-oriented, success-focused, and motivated to the core. This is a crucial quality of a confident leader because not only do they believe that it can be done, they do it. It’s the driving force of a confident leader.

Although you may not feel confident, you can take steps to master the code today. So, for the shy, unsure, and introverted people out there, let’s make a pact. Let us confidently unite and with one voice say, “Check, please!”

What other qualities does a confident nonprofit leader have?

Lacking confidence in leadership? The DB&A Executive Search & Recruitment team partners with nonprofits to find CEOs and other executive leaders that will help them and their nonprofits grow and thrive.  Contact us today to learn how we can help you &  your organization meet it’s goals.

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