Kate Woods



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Confidence in your own leadership skills is one thing, but it needs to be validated by others. Authentic confidence requires goodwill and 360-degree trust.

In a high-performing sports team, players trust each other, they trust the coaches, and they trust themselves. The players and team leaders are experts in their positions, but they all play the same game.

Having faith in your abilities is valuable, but it doesn’t put you in the game. The coach’s belief in you and your skills is what gets you in the starting line-up. What’s more, each player must show confidence in their team mates, be willing to pass the ball and let them take the shot.

Confidence, in both yourself and others, doesn’t happen without practice. Whenever you start building a new business relationship, do you immediately trust your counterpart’s abilities to deliver? Do you think they trust you in the same way?

adidas leader Kate Woods standing on stage and smiling with the audience in the back.

The assumption of goodwill is an integral part of a healthy company culture, forming a solid basis for confident leadership. As soon as you become suspicious of your business partner or team member, it’s not only the dialogue and relationship that starts deteriorating – it’s the entire culture. Remember: Culture is what drives the behavior of employees, which you can affect by leading by example.

The way to build authentic confidence through leadership is by acting with integrity, setting high expectations, and being committed to learning and growing.

Values-based leadership starts with awareness

A confident leader acts with awareness, not of only of what they know, but what they don’t know.By being true to yourself and your values you can act and lead with integrity.

Acting with integrity has two aspects: recognizing your values and conducting business according to them. If you’ve chosen to be part of an organization or a team, it means you’ve accepted those shared values as part of your identity, and are ready to stand up to what you believe is right for the business.

Leaders are geared for lifelong learning

Learning can sometimes be humbling, which makes both insecure and arrogant leaders averse to it. Confident leaders are wired to learn and grow.

There will be times you’ll struggle with saying the words, “I don’t know” out loud. You might assume it’ll affect your status or reputation when, in fact, the opposite is true. Accepting you don’t know the answer is a sign of confidence – and a visible testament to your leadership skills. Knowing and admitting the limits of your knowledge shows you’re open to learning.

But note this: Replying “I don’t know” to everything is not the goal. Choosing to find the answer is a key aspect of a growth mindset, a vital leadership quality.

: Kate Woods is playing the ball during a field hockey game wearing the jersey of the South Africa national team.

Leaders set high expectations - for themselves and others

As a team leader, your focus should be on developing your people. But when expectations aren’t met, you also need to have tough conversations and give constructive feedback.

One facet of confident leadership is setting high expectations for your team and recognizing when targets are reached. When they’re not being met, the gaps need to be addressed in a constructive, collaborative way.

Do you automatically trust a new colleague? How do you build confidence within your team?

South African field hockey player Kate Woods is carrying her son on the pitch after a match.

Confidence Checklist for Leaders

A high-performing team is made up of players who trust each other, themselves, and the team leads. This 360-degree confidence takes both practice and goodwill, the latter being fundamental to a healthy company culture. Culture, after all, drives the behavior of employees.

  • Act and lead with integrity by being true to yourself and your values.

  • Learning lasts a lifetime. Remember: Accepting you don’t know the answer takes confidence.

  • Set high expectations for yourself and the team. Recognize when targets are reached and when they’re not, and address the gaps.


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by Kirsten 11.07.2018
What an inspiring story, Kate! I am not an Olympic athlete, but can definitely relate to the moment when you looked in the mirror after having your son, saying: I'm not done yet. I felt the same looking at my professional career after having our son.
by John Sparks 13.07.2018
Number three on the checklist could be an entire follow up topic. I love how a well written 90 day plan that contains an inspirational objective and S.M.A.R.T. commitments can build confidence. "Built during practice" is my favorite line. For me it's the small wins which nobody ever observes that mean the most.
Nina Weihrauch
Nina Weihrauch | Editor John Sparks 16.07.2018
Hi John,

thanks for sharing your thoughts and the idea of following up on the third action step. We'll look into this. 🙂
How do you make sure that you set high expectations for yourself and your team? How do you know that they're high enough? I think that this is a tricky yet important task. I feel that pushing myself out of the "easily achievable" comfort zone increases fun and motivation at work.


by John Sparks Nina Weihrauch 24.07.2018
Strategy is tricky and fun at the same time. Setting the proper expections (High enough) means we must really know our team and it’s dynamics. One teams stretch may be anothers starting point. #MyBest in NAM Retail truly embraces this culture.

With the above established we can ask ourselves as a team what haven’t we accomplished? What’s out of reach of our current capabilities? If it feels impossible, impossible is nothing, and we know we’re on the right track. This stretches the performance curve keeping the High Performance Teams in that stage setting industry standards.
by Brian Kerby 15.07.2018
Really proud of what you've achieved since those early days as a tech rep and sponsored athlete with adidas SA. Well done and keep up the great work.
by Ray Deane 22.11.2018
I find this area assumes a lot with "High Functioning/Performing Teams" and "Trust" being established. But I would agree with a "Follow up" step and dealing with failure or non-performance in a not so perfect world. This takes confidence! Thanks for sharing!
by Brian Kerby 09.03.2020
Awesome, Kate. Well done. Amazing how you've progressed from a hockey playing tech rep to the strong, confident business leader you are today. Keep up the great work. All the best. Brian


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