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Can confidence be learned just like any other skill, and do you need to?

Would you describe yourself as a confident person? Is confidence something you think about in relation to your career? Or have you ever been encouraged to be just that bit more confident?

Full and empty glass

One of the most frequent pieces of “advice” I’ve seen dished out to businesswomen is to be more confident.   I’m not sure if this is a new thing, or if its always been an “issue” for women. But it’s something that’s been smacking me between the eyes over the past couple of months and something I couldn’t get out of my head over the past week while I’ve been relaxing on a blissful break in Bali (and a HUGE thank you to the Semara Seminyak – our family all loved the resort, the yoga, the spa, the pool, the quiet spaces and – most importantly – the kids club!!) It’s amazing what gets stuck in the rinse cycle when you take some time out!

The headlines on this notion of women and confidence say it all…

And yet they say so little about what we really experience at work, the tightrope we walk with every interaction.

I’m sure that for every woman told to be more confident, there’s another told to be less assertive, less pushy, to relax just a little.

So do women really need to be more confident? Or is it that we exhibit confidence in a different way? And if we were to become more confident, would increase the likelihood of women succeeding in senior leadership roles?

In my work chairing Peer Support Australia I’ve seen the very real link between confidence, optimism and resilience. I pondered whether Martin Seligman’s work on learned optimism could be helpful to those questioning their own confidence at work, and their success in life.

In his 1990 book, Learned Optimism, Seligman found that optimists and pessimists have a different way of dealing with adversity. Optimists tended to view failure objectively “What happened was an unlucky situation (not personal), and really just a setback (not permanent) for this one, of many, goals (not pervasive)”.

Seligman identified 3 key differences between optimists and pessimists, and invited pessimists to learn to be optimists by rethinking each of these aspects, thus creating a “learned optimism” in their approach.

There are obvious parallels to be drawn from this focus on optimism, and its translation to confidence and the successful leader. I prepared this summary of my thoughts for a keynote presentation that I’m delivering later this week in Fiji:


It seems to me that learned optimism and workplace confidence have a lot in common, and perhaps could be applied in a similar way. We could certainly learn to be more confident.

The question is, do we need to?  My suspicion is that we are all just fine, exactly the way we are.


  • Victoria Soper

    Jen, I really like the descriptions in the Confident Leader summary above.
    For me more than confidence I see the challenge for women is often self-belief and I believe if you have a healthy belief system then this helps you to be confident and resilient and keep going despite speed bumps. I have just completed a research paper on Life Coaching for adult survivors of child sex abuse (CSA). CSA impacts 1 in 3 women in Australia and can have some life long adverse impacts and I observed in the research self belief feeling worthy can take a big hit.

    • jendalitz

      Victoria I admire your own courage in taking on that role, it certainly is a long road to recovery for survivors and every step towards self esteem is a good one. Thanks for sharing! Jen

  • amh6417

    Interesting Jen. I always thought I was an optimist but it seems I am only an optimist in the areas of permanence and pervasiveness but I really need to rethink my pessimism in the area of personalization. As got me thinking about what I need to work on. Thanks!

    • jendalitz

      We all learn something about ourselves every day! 🙂


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"The only moment we ever really have is this one - celebrate it. Happiness isn't in the future or the past but in the awareness of the present." - Anna McPhee

Anna's words are how she lived her life. She has been an amazing inspiration, a wonderful support, a gracious mentor to me throughout my career. So many of us counted her as a girlfriend to look up to, and her legacy will live on in the many women she has inspired to live their very best life.

I will miss her.

Sending condolences to Reggie, Anna's beautiful mum Trish and adoring sisters, and all of her extended family.

Vale Anna Marsali McPhee (1970 - 2017)
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