Karen Laos, a leadership coach who strongly believes in the importance of unshakeable confidence being the essential ingredient for women in leadership. The essence of speaking out to stand out has driven her to empower others into unapologetically narrating their own stories. Working with well-known corporations and entrepreneurs, she facilitates personality by training how to harmonise it with one’s message to the world.

As founder and CEO of Karen Laos Consulting, she shares her journey and expertise on confidence in leadership and some tips for future thriving leaders.

1. Please describe your journey on being a leadership coach for women in business?

I’ve always been drawn to leadership and business: from class president in high school to leadership roles in college. When I moved from Minneapolis to San Francisco in my 20’s, I took a job in human resources and found that I loved helping people develop. I soon discovered emotional intelligence and I felt I finally had a language for the personal growth work that I’d done, and how important that is to being a good leader. I grabbled with self-doubt myself – in spite of being in senior leadership, coaching at Google, Netflix, Facebook and more. It took me a long time to truly own my voice in all situations. Once I did, it was empowering, and I wanted to help more women step into that… I knew it was my calling and now I’m a champion for other women who want to ignite their confidence.

2. What is it about confident women in leadership that inspires you? 


So many women hold back from sharing their ideas due to self-doubt, so what inspires me is when I see a woman choosing to be her authentic self and freely speaking up; not held back by fear or imposter syndrome. I want all women to be free of that baggage that holds us down. Also because everyone’s unique story is important. When we own our story and claim our power, magical things happen.


3. What advice would you give for women lacking confidence in a male dominated industry?


I would tell her that she deserves a seat at the table, and to claim it by speaking up for her ideas and not being afraid to interject her thoughts in meetings. I would tell her that she has everything she needs to be successful. I’d tell her to avoid saying “I’m sorry” unless an apology is necessary, and to replace it with “excuse me” or “thank you” instead.


4. How does self-confidence influence leadership skills?


If we feel confident in ourselves, we aren’t consumed by what others think. We’re focused on others and what they need, as well as what the business needs. We’re able to put our energy in the right place and lead freely.


5. Why do you think it is important for women to develop and master confidence in their leadership skills?


Because the world needs more women leaders! It will make all of our companies run better. Research shows that. Women make up 50% of the workforce, yet the percentage of women leaders is much less than men. Diversity of ideas helps with innovation, creativity and efficiency.


6. Please share 3 techniques on being an influential leader in the world of business? 


Foster a culture of psychological safety. Tangibly, that means – as a leader – you have to be vulnerable. If you open up about your mistakes and/or shortcomings, you create connection, and that creates trust. And that creates an incredible culture.

Show that you care. Ask about your team’s lives outside of work, pay attention to what’s important to them and ask questions that will draw them out.

Listen. This requires being present. Basic things like eye contact (even over Zoom!) and not multi-tasking while they’re talking. Staying focused on what they’re saying.


7. How would you describe the habits of a great leader? And what techniques can be used to enhance these habits? 


Big picture thinking. Know what needs to be accomplished instead of getting stuck in the details. A technique is to always begin with the end in mind and ask these questions: Where are we headed and what is the purpose? That will help to keep things focused and moving in the right direction. Communication is a critical habit. You can practice by recording yourself on video to see how you come across. Notice facial expressions and tone of voice. It’s important to be both approachable and competent.


8. For individuals who are naturally shy, name 3 tips to help gain unshakeable confidence.


Fear and excitement are the same thing physiologically, so instead of saying “I’m so nervous to speak up” say “I”m so excited to speak up” – that will trick your brain and boost your confidence.

Smile when first connecting with your audience. It will help you to come across as likeable and approachable, as well as make you feel less nervous, too.

Prepare as much as possible without memorizing anything. The more prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be.

(BONUS tip!): Try to remember that it’s about your audience, not you. While you may be shy, the audience is thinking about themselves. If you can focus on their needs like putting them at ease or asking about them, it will help you take the focus away from yourself.


9. What expert tips can you share for standing out in a room full of leaders? 


Being focused in your communication by avoiding rambling and getting to the point instead. Saying something that adds value, and anytime you can, tell a story or an example (instead of a data dump of information). Project your voice and sit up straight when you speak. Avoid “upspeak” – saying a statement that ends in a question mark instead of a period.


10. What techniques can be taken by a business leader for boosting the confidence in their staff/colleagues? 


Foster an environment where experimentation and failure are accepted. Avoid judgment and criticism. Be constructive with your feedback and encourage new ideas. One technique is to entertain all new ideas for five minutes, no matter how crazy they are.


Lastly, is there any key information that you would really like to see in your article?

I believe that all women deserve to be seen and heard and that standing out is a choice that we can all make. It’s a skill you can learn and it’s important to remember that you are worthy and enough. Go after it!

If you want more of Karen Laos’ take on igniting your confidence, be sure to visit her sites below: