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On Confidence

"Be confident, but not arrogant." Those were my last words of advice the other day to a candidate seeking a position for which we were recruiting before she was interviewed by the board of directors.

The reason for my advice was that while she had broad development experience she had not held a comparable position of responsibility. The question in the minds of the board members was, "Can this person do the job? Does she have the maturity? Will she take initiative and provide the leadership we need?"

Those questions stemmed from their own lack of confidence. This was a newly formed board of directors which was charged with the responsibility to start up a development program. None of them had similar experience. They were looking for a professional to help them be successful.

Other than perhaps helping us through job interviews, what does confidence have to do with our work as development professionals? As with most of our attitudes, confidence has both an internal and external effect. Webster lists these meanings: 1) firm belief; trust, reliance; 2) assurance, a being or feeling certain; 3) belief in one’s own abilities; self-confidence; 4) something or someone to be trusted; 5) a relationship as confidant.

Confidence seems to be a feeling about ourselves that waxes and wanes. It is tied inextricably to our self-esteem. Confidence may even be a barometer of our self-esteem. As we experience success in our careers, in our relationships, in our service to others, our self-esteem is bolstered. We become more confident of our abilities and more assured that our efforts will have positive outcomes.

Naturally, our inner attitude of confidence bears on our ability to perform our job. Confidence is a conviction that we have some control over our own lives and that we can influence the world about us. John Gardner in On Leadership describes our activities which spring from our self-confidence as "acts of presumption." The presumption is that our efforts will have positive outcomes. Very often our attitude of confident assurance convinces not only ourselves but others that the possible is probable. Our prophesies become self-fulfilling. As Gardner writes, "confidence greatly increases the likelihood of sustained, highly motivated behavior."

To be successful in our work we must be fully convinced that we can influence the world about us. Why else would we labor for a charitable institution with a mission to enhance the quality of our lives in some way? Why would we work with board members and other volunteers to motivate them to give and seek funds for the benefit of our institutions? Why would we develop relationships with donors and challenge them to give more than they might otherwise consider? To make a difference in the world.

Then there is the external effect. People form their impressions of us in the first few seconds. Our confidence exerts a very powerful influence on how they see us. They perceive confidence as a positive characteristic demonstrated by leaders. And competent leadership has everything to do with success. People want to be affiliated with and support successful institutions. We tend to personify institutions in the people who lead them. Gardner lists confidence as one of the attributes of effective leadership. It enables us to step out in front of others and actively assume responsibility.

That’s what the board of directors I mentioned earlier were looking for in this candidate, although they didn’t articulate it. It was a subliminal searching for the personal qualities and characteristics that would augur success.

Our donors are just like that board of directors. They, too, are measuring us — and our chief executive officers. Remember that people give to people, not to institutions. Do we demonstrate leadership? Can they have confidence in us that their gift will be a good investment? Can we accomplish our mission? Can they trust us? It is our obligation to evince confidence —in our institutions and its leadership and in ourselves.

However, there are times in all our lives when we stumble. None of us is perfect. The probability of not making a mistake is zero. Sometimes our stumblings are of our own making and other times we are surprised and unprepared for the unexpected. Our confidence can be shaken. We can become unsure of ourselves, uncertain of the choices we have made, doubtful of our abilities, and hesitant of decisions to be made.

These times of lost confidence can be healthy for us. Perhaps we have become over-confident, even arrogant. These can be occasions for reflection. What have we been taking for granted? What attitudes are in need of change? How do others perceive us? How does our own pride make us blind to reality?

It is our response to these occasions that reveal our character. At these times confidence is much like faith for confidence connotes a kind of hopeful expectation. We need to return to our inner wellspring, to find strength in our self-esteem, and to respond in faith that we will again be successful on our next attempt — or the one after or the one after that.

Our self-esteem, of course, reflects our healthy love of our selves. It is a necessary precursor to loving others. This is the basis for our confidence and the confidence that others place in us. It is a persistent way of being, of living. As Robert Kelly states in How to Be a Star at Work, successful people "draw upon some mysterious reservoir of confidence and commitment, assume some personal risk, and take some initiatives that go well beyond what is expected."

Assuming risk implies having courage. It does take courage to consistently take responsibility and to act presumptively, to be confident. Stephen Covey in First Things First links confidence and courage together in what he calls an upward spiral. In this context he believes that setting and working toward principle-based goals is an act of courage. When we set out to do so confidently, in hopeful expectation of positive results, we experience growth. We are in the process of becoming all that we can become. Isn’t that really our personal mission in life —— to become all that we can become?

In so doing, we will do our part to assure that our institutions will become all that they can become.

Suggested readings:

Covey, Stephen R., Merrill, A. Roger, and Merrill, Rebecca R.; First Things First, Fireside, New York, 1994.

Gardner, J., On Leadership, The Free Press, New York, 1990.

Kelley, Robert E., How to Be a Star at Work, Times Business, New York, 1998.

Michael R. Maude, ACFRE, FAHP
Partners In Philanthropy

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