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Insight from Denise Ilitch: Building Your Confidence as a Woman

April 29, 2018

Business leader and University of Michigan Regent Denise Ilitch shares her advice for building confidence and how to use that confidence to be an effective leader.

By Denise Ilitch

A critical component to success is confidence. Every successful person I know has a lot of confidence. Confidence is critical to so many aspects of our lives. If you don’t believe in yourself, you don’t give anyone else permission to believe in you.

I remember when I first understood the concept of confidence. I had come home from school and was sitting at the kitchen table with my dad. He looked at me and said, “What did you contribute to the world today?” I paused, thought about it a moment and said, “Well, nothing Dad, I am only 10.” My dad may have been demanding a lot from a kid. His question showed that he had confidence in me, and I realized I was capable of making a contribution.

We all have confidence, but some of us might wish we had a bit more.

Educate yourself. For me, education is a key to building confidence. When I say education, many people think of a formal education. I am a fan of that. However, I am talking about knowledge.

The more knowledge I possess, the more powerful and confident I feel. That’s why I always try to learn as much as I can and to soak up as much information as I can, wherever I can find it.

Part of that quest took me to law school.

My law degree has been a tremendous asset and has played a key role in my career advancement.

In addition to learning the law, it taught me discipline, assertiveness and logical thinking. It also taught me how to see all sides of a situation, think on my feet and not feel intimidated when challenged. More than that, it enabled me to become self-sufficient. And make no mistake: Self-sufficiency builds confidence.

So, get involved in any area of interest to continue your education and your experience and to hone your business instincts.

Make self-improvement a part of your everyday life and watch your confidence grow.

Never forget the level of your confidence impacts your effectiveness as a leader. Confidence is contagious. It allows you to build confidence in others.

Display confidence in all you do. You are your best ambassador!

So ask yourself, “How confident am I? How would I assess it on a scale of 1 to 10?” It can fluctuate depending on what is happening in your life.

Adversity can test faith in oneself. It is unavoidable in both our personal and professional lives. While you cannot always avoid adversity, you can take steps to lessen its impact. I have seen a combination of small negative influences chip away at a person until she wakes up one day, feels badly about herself and can’t figure out why.

In her book, “Personal History,” Katharine Graham wrote about confidence.

She talks about the relationship with her husband and how he would build her up and at the same time tear her down. He had a cruel humor, and she became the butt of his jokes. He would call her porky due to a weight gain or look at her when she was talking as if she was boring people. She wrote, “Strangely, I was still so mesmerized by him that I didn’t perceive what was happening, and even played along with it. … I simply didn’t connect my lack of confidence with his behavior toward me.”

Many people wondered whether Katharine Graham could be effective as the publisher of The Washington Post. Yet in her tenure, she took the Post from a decent big city daily newspaper to one of the nation’s leading news sources. She died as one of the most respected women in the industry. She trusted her instincts and eventually refused to allow negative influences to dictate how she felt about herself. This, of course, translated to her business and its remarkable success.

It’s difficult to escape adversity or a negative influence in your life, but don’t ever allow others to discourage you or deter you from what you want to accomplish. If a door shuts, find another one, or if you have to, climb through a window!

Another confidence builder is being positive and spending time with positive people.

In “The Rhythm of Life,” author Matthew Kelly summarized it best: “The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. … We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose and challenge us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves.”

We are all familiar with the famous saying, “Behind every successful man is a successful woman.”

I believe, “Behind every successful woman is herself.”

Editor’s Note: Denise Ilitch is giving the keynote address at Women SEEN: Making an Impact at 10 a.m. Friday, May 11. Follow SEEN’s Facebook page to watch the speech live.

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