Confidence is the Secret Ingredient for Improved Performance

Silvia Damiano
3 min read

Even in the best of times, some of us have doubts about our abilities and performance. We feel anxiety and even fear when we think about doing certain things at work, like giving a speech or preparing a report with a quick deadline.

Why do some people seem to do so well while others, who may be just as brilliant and prepared, seem to flounder? Why, too, are there differences in how men and women are seen in the workplace concerning self-confidence? Confidence is the secret ingredient for success. Fortunately, we can increase mental readiness by training our brains to be more confident.

Building confidence is an integral part of being a leader. Low confidence levels can strongly impact how the brain operates and result in poor decision-making. Other people can sense the lack of confidence in someone, and it’s difficult for a leader to maintain a loyal following when the people around them do not have faith in the leader’s abilities. 

A word of caution, there is a fine line between being confident and being overly confident and narcissistic. Today’s politics show many examples of overconfident leaders. When we have people like this running a business, the people doing the actual work have to work harder to compensate for the shortcomings of the boss. This kind of toxic atmosphere just drives talent away.

Building Confidence In Your Brain

A recent study identified patterns in the brain which correlate with increased self-confidence, and scientists found they could manipulate these patterns to actually increase self-confidence in test subjects. This research suggests we may eventually be able to decrease shyness, increase assertiveness and improve communication by directly altering brain activity.1

While this sounds like science fiction, it’s easy to imagine how much good could come from this type of research. What if we could harness the mental power of all the people out there who could become truly effective, compassionate leaders if only they were more assertive or had more confidence in themselves?

With the realisation of one's own potential and self-confidence in one's ability, we can build a better world. 
Dalai Lama

When Confidence is Seen As Something Else

As complicated as our brains are, the genetic differences between the male and female brain are yet another factor which can impact leadership. Women often fall prey to the ‘imposter syndrome’, where they feel like they don’t deserve their success and that at any moment the cards may fall and someone will point them out to be an imposter. While men certainly doubt themselves, women are more likely to heed to these doubts.

In an internal study in Hewlett Packard, men would apply for a promotion if they (in average) met about 60% of the criteria for the new job. Women would typically only apply if they met 100% of the requirements.2

Another issue for women in leadership positions is that confidence is often seen as something else. When women mimic the leadership styles of men (portraying confidence), they are often perceived as bossy. However, studies have shown that when women show their confidence through their actions (rather than talking about their accomplishments), they are deemed to be more effective leaders.3

We need all leaders and employees to be aware of these differences in perception. A tool like the i4 Neuroleader Assessment can be extremely useful to help us see how others see us. We cannot perform at our highest levels if we are unsure about how our colleagues, employees and clients perceive us. 

It’s an unfortunate fact of the world (backed by a plethora of research) that women face these kinds of issues when in positions of power. By increasing our own mental readiness, we can start to learn about the biases we possess and start to let them go. Why are we still holding each other back from success? Let’s change this mindset and cheer each other on. Even though science may help us unlock self-confidence, we still need the support of those around us.

The Secret To Success Is Within Us All

Leaders must have the confidence to continually make decisions, some of which may drastically impact their organisation. Being prepared to commit firmly is reassuring to those we work with. What if the secret to success is to improve our own confidence while acknowledging our biases and retraining our brains to overlook them?

We all have so much to contribute, but issues like self-confidence, or not wanting to be seen as bossy may be holding us back. What a world we could create if we could teach our young leaders to be blind to the differences between us and instead judge people by their actions and words and deeds!

Question Time

Do you usually feel confident about yourself and your abilities?


  1. Cortese A, Amano K, Koizumi A, et al. Multivoxel neurofeedback selectively modulates confidence without changing perceptual performance. Nat Commun 2016; 7: 13669.
  2. Zenger J. The Confidence Gap In Men And Women: Why It Matters And How To Overcome It. Forbes Magazine, (2018, accessed 9 October 2020).
  3. Kramer J. Female Leaders Who Behave Like Men Are Seen As Bossy, (accessed 9 October 2020).


Originally posted on: 8 September 2022
Last updated on: 12 April 2024
Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Founder & CEO
About my Brain Institute

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist, filmmaker and creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology.

Silvia's scientific background and curiosity about the human brain led her to a decade long journey of research into optimal brain functioning and the application of neuroscience in leadership and daily life. Her past and current roles have uniquely prepared her for the current undertaking, that of leadership activist & change agent.

Silvia Damiano founded The About my Brain Institute in 2009, with the purpose of democratising leadership & neuroscience. She has a passionately held belief, that leaders in our 21st century global economy and their organisations must radically change long-held ideas of what constitutes effective leadership

In her ground-breaking books ‘Leadership is Upside Down’, ‘Brain-Friendly Leadership’ and the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’, Silvia provides both compelling evidence and explores the importance of leadership in our personal and professional lives and what it takes to develop the human behind the leader.

Silvia has worked in different countries, across many industries, helping teams and organisations improve business performance. Silvia’s clients have described her as a passionate, dynamic, a highly experienced speaker and master facilitator on the topics of Emotional Intelligence, Cultural Change, Neuroleadership & Engagement.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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