Wed 08 Jun 2016 | By:

How to Lead A Startup Effectively without Confidence

How to Lead A Startup Effectively without ConfidenceWow. Without confidence? Is it a typo? No, it’s not a typo. Confidence has been overrated for so long that we have been internalizing it religiously. We taught that being confident is a sure way to success. No, the sure way to success requires more than having confidence.

The key to success is having the competence and being open to continuously updating skills and knowledge based on the latest trends and industry consensuses. It’s always calibrating you to be a better manager, professional, entrepreneur, and person.

Of course, you’d need to be confident enough to recognize trends and consensuses: Taking in what’s valid and removing what’s not. That’s the type of confidence you need and it can be learned and polished.

A gorilla (no pun intended) can look pretty confident with its puffed chest, but it’s a useless type of confidence. You can’t be successful just by puffing your chest and talking loud as if the whole world is yours for the taking. You’d need the ability to discern when to start when to stop, why you need to restart, and how to restart. When to speak, when to listen, when to take over the conversation, and when to dismiss.

What you actually need is competence that’s laced with confidence. Not the other way around.

Most startups are led by confident individuals, but we don’t know for sure how they approach this “confidence versus competence” thing. Ideally, a startup founder thrusts through in the business world with a “calibrating attitude.”

These are the elements of the so-called “calibrating attitude.”

First, be open to feedback.

Everyone is entitled to their opinions and feedback is actually expected. A startup leader should encourage feedback from all stakeholders as every piece of feedback is a good learning tool for progress. Never take a feedback as an insult, as it would only decrease your morale and breed negativity, which is bad for both confidence and competence.

Second, consider adopting Holacracy.

Holacracy is a flat management structure, which is now practicing at Everyone is their own manager and their own subordinate. And everyone has the same amount of authority in the company, despite their unique posts and job descriptions. This kind of structure would increase confidence and competence.

Third, use “open office” design for office space.

It’s especially useful in a company with Holacracy management style. However, if you prefer to adopt the “traditional up-to-bottom” management structure, an open office is a great way to monitor activities and build a sense of camaraderie. The more we see the faces of our colleagues, the closer we become.

Fourth, create an “independent” culture in decision making and execution.

Tiny decisions should be independently made without having to spend too much time in meetings and endless considerations. For this, the founder and the management need to come to the same page on the variables of a “problem” to solve. Develop clear guidelines on the types of problem, which can be independently solved and which must be discussed in a meeting.

Fifth, focus on execution and result.

There are too many activities in a startup that must be handled with care and caution. And competence laced with confidence is key to detailed execution and favorable results. Remind yourself and your team that competence would eventually bring confidence, but confidence can be just an “empty canister.”

In conclusion, our parents and kindergarten teachers are right that we all must “be” confident. But oftentimes we confuse “being” confident with “looking” confident. As we grow as leaders, true confidence comes from competence in detailed execution and favorable results derived from being open to feedback and continuously upgrading skills and knowledge based on the latest trends and industry consensuses.

Yes, you can lead without “looking” confident, but you can’t lead without “being” competent.

About Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue is the founder and chief editor of and an award-winning author, columnist, and serial entrepreneur. She has published over 1000 articles and 100 ebooks under several names. She has taught more than 50 college-level writing classes. Publications she has written for included Forbes, Fortune, Esquire, and Cosmopolitan. She has proven record in gaining traction, brand awareness, and creative marketing. Her blog is