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Leading With the “Good” Kind of Confidence

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By April Townsend
February 23, 2024

“You realize they aren’t thinking about you. They’re thinking about themselves.” I was having lunch with my friend, sharing with her how things were going with my recent promotion. I was processing a sarcastic comment made by a colleague about the new direction I was taking with my group and his remark had me sitting back on my heels. I was no longer sure I was making the right decision. Not only that, but I was starting to question whether I should have accepted the job at all. Judging by his comment, it seemed obvious that he thought I wasn’t the best choice for the job. Maybe he was right. Maybe this all was a big mistake.

Before long, I was going down a rabbit hole of my own making. “Just stop,” she said. “Where is this all coming from?” “What do you mean?” I responded. “This isn’t like you. What’s really going on?” she asked.

As I thought about it, I realized that I had set up a personal expectation that in this new position I needed to be perfect. For me, that meant that all of my decisions were logical, using the data I had gathered and analyzed to support my choices, and that everyone would see that this new direction was obviously the right way to go. When that didn’t happen, it crushed my confidence. 

She then asked, “By chance, does the new direction you’re proposing impact this colleague’s status or his ability to influence decisions?” After a moment’s pause, I realized that yes, it did. In an effort to clean up some lax policies, I was proposing that the decision-making on our vehicle purchases shift from a division-by-division basis to a committee that would oversee the vehicle purchasing for our entire organization. This meant that the colleague whose remark I was worrying over would no longer have the authority to purchase vehicles for his office whenever he wanted. I hadn’t taken that into consideration in my initial proposal, and I realized I needed to step back and have a one-on-one conversation with this colleague, as well as all the others impacted by this decision, and listen to their concerns.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized my friend was right. This colleague wasn’t thinking about how his comments might impact me. He was focused on his own organization and how this change would affect the way they did business. In fact, later when I had the chance to sit down with him one-on-one to hear his concerns, he shared that he thought I was doing a great job in this new role and that the pushback he offered during the meeting was more of a political show for his peers than really challenging what I was proposing. He admitted, “It’s all politics, April. Sorry you got caught in the middle of it.”

Lessons Learned

One of the most valuable lessons gained from that experience was realizing that people often act and speak out based on their own concerns and space. I learned to separate my confidence from what others may be thinking about me. In doing that, I gained a valuable insight: they might be struggling with their own issues or insecurities, which could even include wondering what I was thinking about them. This revelation was surprisingly freeing, allowing me to regain some of my confidence.

I also learned I needed to redefine what it meant to be a perfect leader. My confidence didn’t need to depend on my having the right answers all of the time. That assumption was naïve, unrealistic and more than a bit arrogant. Instead, I needed to ask questions when I didn’t know something, and then use my best judgment to make a decision, based on the information I had at the time. Instead of holding myself to an unrealistic standard, I needed to have the confidence to trust myself and go for it.

Confidence Versus Arrogance

There’s a clear difference between being arrogant and confident. Being arrogant is when one assumes an attitude of superiority. This is often demonstrated as an exaggerated sense of importance—someone who knows it all, who won’t listen to others but prefers to keep others in their place. What I’m advocating for is developing your confidence, which is believing in yourself and your abilities. True confidence is not arrogance. It means:

  • Being open to admitting and owning your mistakes.
  • Remembering that no one has all the answers and it’s okay to not be perfect.
  • Being more comfortable taking risks.
  • Accepting compliments instead of minimizing or deflecting them.
  • Sincerely celebrating the success of others.


Most of us are going to experience times when we struggle with our confidence. When this happens, take time to reflect on your career and life experiences, focusing on your successes and the things you’ve accomplished that you’re proud of. Keep notes of the impact you’re making, so you can refresh your memory when needed. Remember: Do your best. Ask for support when you need it. Trust yourself. Celebrate your wins. And go for it!

Author: Dr. April Townsend has published numerous reports and articles focused on leadership, particularly the challenges faced by women leaders. She worked in the public sector for over 30 years, holding a variety of executive leadership positions. She is a credentialed International Coaching Federation coach and founded Townsend Consulting, LLC where she provides executive leadership coaching. Her email is: April@ Townsend.Consulting.  Twitter handle: @AprilT2014

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