Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Strangely enough, turns out that an improv class made me a better leader, and I don’t mean in terms of kicking off a new acting career (even though I do live in Los Angeles). No, the class actually made me a better leader in business. While on the surface this may seem like an unorthodox approach to building executive skills, it has proven to be one of the best investments I’ve ever made in self-confidence.
Much leadership training refers to improving confidence, but little addresses what it takes to truly build the unshakeable variety — the type that isn’t afraid to be wrong, to be silly and to go against the grain.
Here are a few steps on my journey to finding it.
1. Yes, take that improv class
This instructional setting has a way of putting one on the spot — a nerve-wracking proposition for a lot of people. But, as a business owner, there are going to be times when you need to think on your feet, apply instant creativity and step outside your comfort zone.
That’s what makes these exercises perfect. I’ve been taking them for years now and can attest that they truly put confidence to the test. Being put on the spot in this way pushes you to think faster and become wittier, not only in terms of humor but also in business acumen. You’re encouraged to share bold ideas and lean into potentially embarrassing situations.
2. Team sports
Multi-player competitions like softball, basketball, volleyball and soccer force you to be an active participant in a group, striving toward a common goal (pun intended). And with many, you’re presented with opportunities to exercise confidence as well, including learning new skills, trying new positions and stepping into leadership roles. In the process, you become versed in trying new things and pushing yourself beyond your usual capabilities. Plus, there are benefits of physical activity.
3. Start a networking group
Many of us are seasoned attendees of networking events, but few of us have hosted them ourselves. The logistics and dynamics of bringing strangers together can be challenging, but that’s exactly what makes it a great confidence-building activity.
Not only does hosting a networking event teach you the fundamentals of associated planning, recruitment, marketing and communication, but it also pushes you to facilitate conversations with others. You’re no longer a passive attendee, but the ringleader in helping people find common ground, connecting them and forming partnerships.
Starting such an event can be as simple as bringing like-minded entrepreneurs together for happy hour, to as complex as hosting a full-bore professional conference. Regardless, the accomplishment and confidence you’ll feel after pulling it together will be well worth the effort.
Unshakeable confidence requires putting ego aside to make the best decisions for a company, and volunteering is a great way to transcend ego to benefit a cause. Whether it’s serving meals at an adult shelter, playing games at a senior living facility or picking up trash on the side of the road, volunteering challenges us to put our superficial interests aside and strive toward a higher purpose.
So, consider reaching out to local or online organizations to find out how you might be able to contribute. The returns will be immeasurable: You will be helping to support both the immediate (and by extension, perhaps global) community, but also learn valuable skills (not least compassion, dedication and grit) that apply equally to business.
5. Regard failure as an opportunity
Many of us strive for perfection, but of course, this is not usually an achievable goal and runs the risk of burnout and/or simply being bummed out. Some degree of failure is inevitable, so practice repurposing the resulting energy into something positive. “Failing forward” helps reposition your mindset to see the positive aspects of not achieving what you initially wanted, and is frequently required to pivot from a goal that doesn’t serve you.
All this takes practice. So fail forward, fall and nurse your bruises, but get back up. And while you’re doing that, look around: What is this situation trying to tell you and what opportunities might be right around the corner?
6. Invest in personal coaching
Proper coaching can help exercise that confidence muscle — make it easier to stand firm in decision-making and become an all-around better communicator. A good coach will look at things objectively, give you direct and constructive feedback and help you work through insecurities.
Approach people who inspire you (I found my first coach after watching his TED Talk). Put together a list, meet with them and determine who’s a good fit. And if you are short on cash, reading books by business heroes can be of immeasurable value.
There is no single key to unshakeable confidence. Rather, it’s a continuous practice of being uncomfortable, pushing past ego and overcoming failure. This is the philosophy that empowers you to rise above the rest and become the best leader possible. And it’s a skill to be practiced, not perfected. Setting the intention to build such confidence is the most important step. To achieve anything takes commitment, determination and perseverance. It’s up to you!