How to Go From a Meek Follower to a Confident Leader

I love The Simpsons. (That is, I love The Simpsons prior to season 8, and everything after that is mostly a hot pile of garbage.) One of my favorite minor characters from the series is Troy McClure, a smooth talking infomercial salesman. At the beginning whatever low-level product he’s pitching, he opens with the line, “Hi, my name is Troy McClure. You might remember me from…” And fill in the blank with jokes like…

  • “2–3 Is Negative Fun”

But perhaps one of my favorite ones comes from a phony self-help book McClure once pushed called,

“Get Confident, Stupid!”

As you can guess from the title of this post, we’re going to talk about how to build confidence, and the ironic hilarity that comes from McClure’s quip is the general fact that you don’t help somebody build confidence by calling them stupid. That’s like calling an overweight person fat as they’re trying to lose weight at the gym. Not exactly encouraging.

Interestingly though, McClure gives us a big clue in cracking the code to building confidence. Namely, think about the times when you felt the most unconfident. Maybe it was in high school PE class when you were less athletic than most of the other students. Maybe it was when you were on a project team where you were clearly the least knowledgeable. Or maybe it was simply when you didn’t know what to say in a basic social setting.

If we are to sum it up… you felt unconfident when you felt, well, stupid.

The word “stupid” packages up two concepts into a single mean thought. One of them is a negative connotation, meaning that you only toss out the word stupid when you’re trying to make somebody feel bad about themselves. The second, I believe, has to do with the concept of ignorance. You only feel stupid when you don’t know what to say / think / do in a certain situation. Think back to those situations I just mentioned above. Would you have felt stupid if you were more athletic, more intelligent, more sociable? Probably not.

Now, let’s think of some opposite situations. Imagine some time where you were the most intelligent, most athletic, or most sociable. Or more simply put, the most competent. How did people behave around you? Did they value your opinion? Did they respect what you had to say? Did they intently listen for whatever you’d share next? The answer is probably yes.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

There seems to be a direct tie between confidence and competence. The more competent you feel about a certain subject, the more confidence you tend to exude. Conversely, the less competent you feel about something, the less confidence you tend to be.

You might be wondering, does this mean I have to become competent at EVERYTHING to become a generally confident person? No, not at all. Clearly, nobody is perfect at everything, so competence across the board isn’t needed. What I’ve found is that there is a sort of domino effect when it comes to competence and confidence. When you become really competent at one thing, your confidence tends to trickle over into other areas of your life where you might be less competent.

(Side note: Confidence can be faked through lying about or exaggerating your own competence, but I am not interested talking about that because a) there’s no integrity in that, and b) I can’t see past my own BS like other people can.)

Take me, for example. I am a natural introvert, and I’ve lived most of my life preferring to be seen, not heard. That admittedly stemmed from feeling totally incompetent about a lot of areas in my life. Not intentionally looking to build confidence per se, I found it came naturally after losing 100 pounds in 2015–2016. People just treated me differently and asked all the time what my “tricks” were. I felt liked and respected which bred confidence, and that confidence trickled over into every other area of my life.

And did you catch in there that I’m a natural introvert?

Truthfully, I feel more comfortable being quiet than being talkative, but I don’t buy into the baloney that you can’t extroverted if you’re a natural introvert. The proof? Watch how quiet people behave when they’re around people they care about. You probably won’t get them to shut up. The movie Eighth Grade portrays this extremely well by sharing how an eighth grade girl voted as “Most Quiet” by her peers was actually a very talkative individual.

So, friend, there’s no reason I can’t believe the same for you. Regardless of whether you’re a natural introvert or extrovert, confidence is something totally attainable by you. Like a muscle, it takes time to develop, but before long, you won’t even recognize the person looking at you in the mirror. (In a good way, of course.)

Find what you can become really good at. For me, it was losing weight. Maybe that’s how you should begin. Or maybe you could get really good at computer science. Or writing. Or graphic design. Fill in the blank with whatever you want to.

Once you become a more competent person, I promise you’ll wonder how you ever lived otherwise.



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David Hundley

Principal machine learning engineer at a Fortune 50 company, 5x AWS certified, 2x HashiCorp certified, 1x GCP certified, M.A. in Org Leadership, PMP, ChFC, CSM