5 Habits of Confident Women

Want to grow as a female school leader? Follow these five habits of confident women who define their own success.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve sat in meetings with ideas to contribute but didn’t raise your hand or you’ve been in conversations where your voice is ignored over the louder or more aggressive voices. Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, authors of The Confidence Code, discuss the science behind women’s brains, the genetics behind being confident, and personal stories of successful, confident women. During a book study of The Confidence Code—led by NAESP Center for Women in Leadership fellows Andrea Thompson and Jessica Gomez—I joined female leaders from across the country to take a deep dive into the consistent habits that have helped shape confident women.

1. Embrace Experiences

In chapter 5, Shipman talks about a fellow soccer coach suggesting that she “embrace the whole experience: losses, struggles, and all.” We have all had those experiences that kept us up at night, focusing on what we did wrong and why we’re not good enough. We look back on those situations and cringe, get upset, blame ourselves, put ourselves down—the list can go on and on with the negativity we put in our heads. Instead of staying up all night focusing on why we “failed,” what if we took a few minutes to reflect on what we can learn from the experience and how we can make changes for the future? In the words of Kelly Clarkson, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Our failures teach us just as much as our successes, and for most of us, failure has to come before success. Let’s take it a step forward: Imagine if we stayed up all night and focused on what went right and any success we can be proud of during an experience. In the book, Shipman continues to talk about coaching her daughter’s soccer team and pointing out small successes each player had out on the field. “By the end of the year, they were ferocious out there.” Let’s take her lead and be ferocious, too!

2. Focus on Achievements (Not Praise)

Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist with The Ohio State University, discovered that “people who base their self-worth and self-confidence on what others think of them don’t just pay a mental price; they pay a physical price, too.” She cites a study where college students who depended on the praise from others reported more stress, while those who focused on the internal sources, exhibited more confidence.

When you really think about it, it probably isn’t surprising. What woman doesn’t love to hear she did a great job on a report or during a presentation? It might boost self-esteem and make you feel good in that moment, but does it really help you become a confident woman in the long run? If nobody praised you for those achievements, does that mean they didn’t really happen? Make a list of things you’ve achieved recently, no matter how big or small, and whether you were praised by someone else or not. Feel proud of those accomplishments. Nobody can take the achievement away from you, so make it a habit to celebrate them. When you start to measure your worth from within and create the happiness yourself, you slowly start to build the confidence you deserve.

3. Do It, Learn, Move On

In chapter 6, Kay and Shipman share that, “a women’s brain is not her friend when it comes to confidence. We think too much and we think about the wrong things. Thinking harder and harder won’t solve our issues, though; it won’t make us more confident.” Confident women don’t dwell on negative thoughts, failures, how poorly they might have done, that they might have made someone mad, that they may have disappointed someone; they self-reflect and move on.

Those “wrong things” that women focus on are referred to NATs, negative automatic thoughts. Some examples of that: Why is the superintendent calling me? I must have done something wrong. That faculty meeting I planned was terrible. They’re all going to be talking about the waste of time later. The good thing about NATs is that once they are recognized, we can reframe them and change them into a learning experience. In our schools, we emphasize the idea of a growth mindset with our students, so we as leaders need to practice what we preach.

4. Toot Your Own Horn

Early on in the book, Kay and Shipman explain the difference between men and women’s brains, their genetics, and the upbringing that is linked to the lack of confidence in women. As students, girls are praised for working quietly, neatly, and not causing trouble.

“The result is that making mistakes, and taking risks, behavior critical for confidence building, is also behavior girls try to avoid, to their detriment,” say Kay and Shipman.

By making ourselves small, we are not helping ourselves grow into our potential, we’re not helping our colleagues grow with us, and we’re certainly not being good role models for the girls in our schools. Tooting your own horn is not arrogance. It goes back to the idea that we need to embrace experiences and focus on achievements. You’re not doing anyone a favor by having talent and not sharing it, and it’s probably not why you were hired for the position or giving the responsibility in the first place. When women lift themselves up, they encourage the world to see them as they see themselves: strong, empowered, and ready to take on the professional world. While you’re at it, toot another woman’s horn too. Toot toot!

5. Stay Authentic

In the last chapter, Kay and Shipman reiterate, “When confidence emanates from our core, we are at our most powerful.” Being true to yourself and your beliefs is not only important in being confident, but it also motivates you to reach your goals.

We all have the “why” behind our decision to become an educator, and when our actions are aligned with that “why,” we are authentic. Being true to yourself is important for two reasons. One is that as an individual, you can’t measure yourself by the successes of others because everyone’s goals and values are different. When dealing with achievement, there are myriad perspectives that the world is using, and being confident means measuring based on your standards. Another reason is that doubting your worth and experiences is harder to dispute when you’re following what you believe is your path. Throughout the book, Kay and Shipman don’t talk about the perfect lives of confident women but rather of the failures, lessons learned, and perseverance of women who learned new things along the way that make them successful.

Motivational speaker Jessica Zeinstra said, “Behind every amazing woman, there are amazing women who support her.” Find your tribe of amazing, like-minded women who will support you in every avenue of your life. Speak to yourself the way you would speak to them and the way they would speak to you. Be yourself, be proud, and be confident. Confidence: Pass it on!

Tara Falasco is principal of Blue Point Elementary School in Blue Point, New York.