Lessons in Confidence from American Idol

Posted 05.19.2010

About this time last year, I wrote a post called “Feedback Do’s and Don’ts from American Idol.” In the belief that everything you need to learn about leadership you can learn from American Idol, I thought I’d do another Idol post this year. (Before you fire off an angry comment, that was irony at work.) All kidding aside, if you put a leadership lens on, there are occasionally some interesting things to see in the show. Over the past couple of weeks, my takeaway has been about the importance of showing up with the right amount of confidence. It can make or break your effectiveness as a performer and a leader. Of course, a lot of the time there’s not a lot of difference between performance and leadership.

Americanicol7 As a long time Idol watcher, I still think last season was the best in the history of the show. This year has had far fewer “wow” moments but there was one last night when one of the final three contestants, Lee DeWyze, sang Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah for his second song. It was a spirited performance made all the more dramatic because when Idol started several months ago, Lee came across as shy, uptight and not really believing that he should be on the show. If he wins this season, he should take Harry Connick Jr. out to dinner because it looks like the mentoring Connick gave Lee on the show a few weeks ago is what got him to believe in himself. Since then, his confidence level has gone through the roof and his natural talent and energy is coming through.

Thanks to Connick’s coaching and mentoring, DeWyze is working through what just about every leader has to work through at different points in their career. You find yourself in a new situation and you become uncomfortable and start doubting yourself. In doubting yourself, your confidence level goes down which affects how you connect with people. As you feel more disconnected, you stiffen up, clamp down or take some other approach that makes the situation worse. If you don’t get your confidence back on track, a downward spiral results. How do you keep and grow your confidence in a new and stressful situation? Here are some Idol inspired (and real world tested) suggestions:

Lighten Up: Get someone you trust to help you keep things in perspective. Humor can help you lighten up and relax enough to show up at your best.

Prepare and Practice: A lot of the discomfort that comes with a new situation is exactly because it’s a new situation. That’s what makes you uncomfortable. You can overcome that by practicing your pitch or performance. The more the practice setting is like the real environment the better. When you have to “go live”, you’ll feel like you’ve been there before.

Create a Clear Picture: Be as specific as you can in your mind about the outcome you’re trying to create and how you want to show up to make that outcome likely.

Build Knowledge: As they say, knowledge is power. Learn as much as you can about your subject. Work with knowledgeable people who are willing to share what they know.

Find Some Role Models: 
It can help a lot to find a role model who you think shows up well and then emulate them.  It’s not that you’re trying to be them. Rather, it’s using their energy and connection as inspiration to bring out the best in your own performance.  

What about you? What do you do to restore your confidence when you’re in a new and uncomfortable situation?