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Confident Woman Leader

Opinion piece by Nande Boss, Business Leader, Speaker and Writer

Confidence is key, they say. Especially when it comes to leadership. Here’s what you need to know about leading confidently, according to Nande Boss.

My story is of a firstborn daughter born in a Xhosa home. In Xhosa culture, the firstborn daughter has a noteworthy role. You are respected, trusted and encouraged as one who can lead and provide guidance to your siblings and participate in decision-making in the family. For me, rather than being an overwhelming weight, the role of firstborn daughter has served as a reminder from my family that I am intelligent, capable, approachable and have something to contribute. 

When it came to leaving my home and going to university, I already had the mindset that I was capable. An affirming environment is not to be underestimated! I left home to study electrical engineering, and soon discovered that the world has spaces, spheres, circles and industries that don’t accommodate the idea that women can lead. This was bizarre for me and a contrast to the environment I was brought up in. 

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Leadership is not a title, but service!

You’ve probably read or been told that leadership is not a title, but service. Because of that, I found myself leading and serving people regardless of the environment. Leadership roles in the engineering industry and many other industries are still occupied by men. I found myself leading regardless, because I saw leadership as something in me that I could develop and participate in. My faith has also been a huge part of embracing my own leadership potential. This mindset created future opportunities for me to lead, not only in the marketplace but in women’s networks, family and church life. 

Here are few things I want to highlight about leading and leading confidently. Remember: looking at what something is not has often helped me understand what it is.

1/ Confidence is not a one-time event

As leaders, we have opportunities to communicate to people. Communication is not a one-time event; nor is it a one-way journey. Leaders have an opportunity to listen to those we lead/serve, receive criticism or feedback, and to make informed decisions that lead everyone towards the best version of themselves. 

2/ Confidence is not having all the answers

Leadership is not about having all the answers. Through leading in different spaces at a young age, leading when I didn’t feel “ready”, and leading through a pandemic, I’ve come to realise that there will always be uncertainty in the leadership landscape. Uncertainty is where leaders live and it’s where we carve paths and gather the right people and experts to bring solutions. Thinking you have all the answers is not accurate; it’s also disempowering. True confidence as a leader allows you to find the people who have the answers and to put a spotlight on them. 

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3/ Confidence is not doing what everyone is doing

Leadership is not a popularity contest. In a recent event called “Transform the Leader Within” hosted by Personal Development and Leadership Coach Paul Scanlon, I learned something that I will never forget. He said: “One of the greatest things you can do as a human being, especially as a leader, is that you must not lose connection with the soundtrack of your life in favour of the immediate song you are singing today or someone is engaging you in singing.”

When leading, there is a temptation to do what is required by everyone around you. There is a temptation to lead like everyone else. I’ve found that it’s best to lead out of who you are. I love to connect with people. My current role as Head of Communications requires me to connect with people. I may not be client-facing, but my words, the words of our team and my work can connect with people if I have people in mind.

It’s best to lead authentically and that takes getting to know who you are, who you are not, your role in industry and time, and how you want to show up. Be gracious with yourself and remember it take time to sound like yourself. 

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4/ Confidence can look like allowing yourself to lead in a way that hasn’t been done before

We sometimes imitate the leadership styles of those who have led before us. There is nothing wrong with this, unless we are adopting their unhealthy habits as well. Confidence in who you are and what your role is in a space allows you to make decisions that have never been made before. We live in a totally different time and different times often require a different way. 

My favourite writer and one of the most powerful and distinguished storytellers of our time, Toni Morrison once said: “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Reflecting on this statement, I want to affirm that if there is a leader that you’ve always wanted to have, but haven’t met yet, then you must be that leader. 

5/ Confidence is not perfection

Leaders are human. Embrace your humanity. Embrace your weaknesses and embrace your brilliance. Every leader is in a classroom right now. We are all learning. Leaders have leaders. That’s one important thing I keep reminding myself: I never ever want to feel like I have arrived

Photo by Godisable Jacob/Pexels

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