Skip to content
Home » Why Confidence Is The Secret To Great Leaders At Work & Home: Dr. Karyn Gordon (Transcript)

Why Confidence Is The Secret To Great Leaders At Work & Home: Dr. Karyn Gordon (Transcript)

Here is the full text and summary of Dr. Karyn Gordon’s talk titled “Why Confidence Is The Secret To Great Leaders At Work & Home” at TEDxRyersonU conference. In this talk, Karyn focuses on the importance of confidence and setting realistic goals in order to become a successful leader. She discusses how a person’s thoughts can dictate their emotions, and how accepting this can help ease anxiety and depression.

Listen to the audio version here:


Have you ever asked yourself, what makes a great leader at work and at home? Now, let’s widen the lens. What makes a great boss, a great manager, a great coach, a great parent, a great friend?

I believe the secret is confidence. Now, when I say the word confidence, what I’m really talking about is an attitude, it’s how we think about ourselves. And how we think about ourselves drives how we feel about ourselves, which drives our behavior. And that’s why confidence is so incredibly important.

We also know that confidence is part of emotional intelligence, and there’s been a lot of research about emotional intelligence and why it’s so incredibly important. I love the quote from Harvard Business Review that says this, emotional intelligence and confidence. Booth, are you ready? Career success, entrepreneurial potential, leadership talent, health, relationship, satisfaction, humor, and happiness. This is the secret sauce. This is the blueprint for success.

And the best part is, these are skills we can all learn. Every single one of us can learn. Confidence is simply a set of skills all of us can learn. And this is why I’m so passionate about this topic.

So I have been fascinated and very curious about the topic around confidence for the last 25 years. So although today I spend the majority of my time working with global organizations and leaders, teaching leadership development and emotional intelligence, I started my career 25 years ago working with teenagers and families.

At the time, I had just finished my master’s in counseling, I did my doctorate in marriage and family. But 25 years ago, I had just finished my graduate studies, and I was asked by a local doctor to set up a counseling practice within his medical center. So that’s how I got my start. And because I was so young, I had all these amazing teenagers as my clients.

But this one particular day was a game changer. She was my 7 o’clock appointment. She came in, she sat down, she was 17 at the time.

Now if you saw this girl, you’d probably think she has like this perfect life. She’s got like a nice family, she’s a straight-A student, she’s on student council, she’s athletic. But in my office, she started sharing with me these really toxic thoughts that she was telling herself. And there was a lot of them.

But there was two prevailing thoughts that she filled her mind with. And here were two of them: I am not enough. I am not good enough. And the second one was, I am good enough, if I succeed, I get into this college, I lose this weight, these people like me. If… And as a result of this toxic thinking, she was filled with insecurity, anxiety, and depression. And extremely unhappy.

I would later learn that this is not a teen topic, this is a human topic. I’m actually having the exact same conversations with my business clients, and my adults, and my professional clients. I am good enough if I earn this amount of money… I lose this weight… I get this job promotion… I have this amount of net worth… I marry this person.

This is not a teen topic, this is a human topic. And I remember looking back at my client 25 years ago, and I said, you know, the fact that you are filling your mind with all these toxic thoughts, this is a problem. I said, what is your school doing to help you? And it was the way that she looked at me. She leaned in and she said, Karyn, nothing.

And I remember looking back at her, and I said, then I’m going to do something. And little did I know that 25 years later, I’d be on this little red dot giving a TED Talk.

So, I thought, I’ve got to get my hands on some really good research. I booked a few days off. So, before the internet, 25 years ago, where did I have to go for good research? The library. I know. That’s how old I am.

So, there I was at one of the universities here, and I have a memory of myself, one of these long tables, and I’m poring over all the journals, the research about confidence and how that affects leadership and decision-making.

And I was blown away. It was all there, and I’m poring over it. And as I’m kind of going through it, I saw this incredible pattern through the research. These three emerging attitudes kind of popped up, and I was like reading it, going, oh, this is so powerful, but it’s sitting in journals. How can I make this come alive?

And so, I created a very simple concept, very simple model that I call the Three Chairs. What you’re about to see has been seen by half a million people from 17 countries, children as young as kindergarten students, all the way to Fortune 500 CEOs. Why? Because this affects every single one of us every single day. It’s very simple.

So, I’m going to explain it to you, and here is how it works. Actually, just before I do, I’m going to encourage all of us here in the room, watching at home, watching with your families, your teams, ask yourself, which one sounds like you the majority of the time? All right, here we go.

So, the first one is what I call THE BLIND ATTITUDE. This is the person that they put themselves down. They fill their mind with toxic thinking. They’re critical towards themselves. They are blind to their own value and their worth. This is where my client was sitting.

Then you’ve got the person over here. I call them THE DISGUISED ATTITUDE. They’re cocky. They’re arrogant. They will put you down. They don’t care about you. Do not be fooled by the disguised attitude. We have found, research says, Michigan State University says, arrogant people often use their arrogance to cover up their insecurity. Do not believe the lies when people are trying to put you down.

ALSO READ:  How To Stop Languishing And Start Finding Flow: Adam Grant (Transcript)

And then you’ve got the person in the middle chair. This is a person who has THE CONFIDENT ATTITUDE, and here’s what makes them different. They don’t put themselves down, but they don’t put other people down. They have this beautiful sense of respect for themselves and other people. And because of this self-worth, this emotional capacity, they lift other people. They encourage them. They empower them.

They also have what we call a growth mindset and a humble mindset. It’s a person that says, I know a lot, but I don’t know everything, so I’m going to surround myself with other people that know more than I do. And I’m also going to be more open to hear feedback. So these are the three attitudes.

Nobody sits in a chair 100% of the time. That’s a big question I often get asked. We’re all moving around, but my question for you is, where do you see yourself sitting the majority of the time, and then how does that impact your life? I love teaching this to a variety of different audiences, because every time I speak about it, people will kind of connect to the chairs a little different.

I was on a podcast about a book I wrote, and the podcaster, very accomplished woman, on the podcast, she says to me, Karyn, everybody thinks I would sit here, but I don’t. I actually sit here. I suffer from the imposter syndrome, and she is not alone. 70% of people will connect to these two chairs.

I was speaking at a business conference, and the CEO comes up to me. He’s like, oh, he goes, I love this. This is so great. He said, I love the model. It’s so simple. He goes, you’re right. My best managers, my best leaders, they sit in this middle chair. He goes, but if I’m totally honest, I actually, at work I sit here, but then when I go home, I sit here, and my family is all sitting there.

I was speaking at a high school, and a senior student comes up to me, and he comes over, and he’s like, yo, yeah, this is pretty good. Actually, I didn’t think I was going to learn anything, but anyway, so actually, it was pretty good. And so yeah, I actually see myself sitting here, and he starts whispering to me, and he goes, nobody knows it.

I’m like, okay, so how is that possible? He’s like, well, I don’t put people down to their face. I just like, when I go down my hallway, I put people down to my head. I guess that’s the same thing, and I’m like, it’s creative, but yeah, that would be the same thing, and so it’s really interesting.

When people see the chairs, they can start seeing themselves in these different environments, so understanding the chairs is pretty simple, right? It’s pretty simple.

THREE ATTITUDES. Where it gets really interesting is understanding how these attitudes, remember, the attitudes that we have about ourselves, it drives how we feel, which drives our behavior.

How do these attitudes then impact our decision-making and our leadership every day? This is where it gets absolutely fascinating. So based on research, you can make very strong educated guesses on how people are going to make decisions in their life based on what chair they sit in. There’s a lot of areas I could focus on. I’m going to highlight a couple of them just so you can kind of understand this.

So let’s say I am sitting in this chair, okay? Let’s say I’m sitting in this chair, and let’s say you and I are colleagues, and let’s say you do something that really bothers me, really offends me. I have three choices of how I’m going to respond to you. If I’m sitting here, if that’s a blind attitude, what am I going to do? I’m probably going to avoid you, okay? I’m going to avoid you because I don’t have the confidence to go talk to you, so I’m going to avoid you in the lunchroom. I’m not going to talk to you, so I’m going to avoid you, or I might talk to you about you.

So what have I just done? I’ve just created a triangle. It’s what we call triangulation. It’s also called backstabbing, and it’s toxic. Why? Because all of a sudden, I’m not respecting you behind your back. I’m creating a whole bunch of drama, and we’re not solving any problems.

What about if I’m over here? What am I going to do? I will go right up to you, and I will tell you off, and I will blame you because you are the problem.

What about if I’m over here? What am I going to do? I will have the respect for myself and them. I will go up to them. I’m not going to involve anybody else. I will assert myself. I think. I feel. I need. Here’s how I see it. How do you see it? I will focus on problem solving. I will take ownership. I will take accountability, and we’re going to focus on solving the problem.

So what’s going to happen? We’re going to drive our productivity, and we’re going to lower our stress. That’s what happens because it’s all interconnected.

Let’s talk about relationships. That’s another fun topic. All right. So let’s say I’m actually sitting in this chair. All right. Let’s say I’m sitting in this chair, and let’s say I’m 25 years old. Who do you think I’m going to be attracted to in my life for my relationships? My friendships? My partner? And even a business relationship? Which chair do you think I’m going to be attracted to?

What we find is if I’m sitting in this chair, I’m more likely to be attracted to somebody who sits in this chair or in this chair. If I’m sitting in this chair, there’s a higher chance I’m attracted to people who actually sit here. Now, what’s fascinating is that when I explain it, people are like, but that doesn’t make any sense.

ALSO READ:  A Guide to Believing in Yourself (But For Real This Time): Catherine Reitman (Transcript)

Karyn, if you’re sitting in this chair, why would you not be attracted to someone who’s going to lift you? And the reason why that often does not happen is because if I’m telling myself really toxic thoughts, this person puts me down. It matches. What we find from research is unconscious that we are attracted to people who think the same way we do. And that is why these two are often attracted to each other in relationships.

I love speaking about that in a marriage conference, and honestly, I can’t even begin to tell you how many times people, when I explain that one bit, people will literally yell out, crap. It’s like all of a sudden you actually understand why they have chosen a partner they didn’t realize at the time. This is all very deep inside of us.

So let’s pull it back to leadership. So when we think about leadership, we think about the great leaders who sit in the middle chair. They uplift, they encourage, they support, they take ownership, they take responsibility. They want to help you be your best version of yourself, and that is why confidence is a secret to great leaders.

Now, I could stop there, right? I mean, that’s what the talk was about. The talk was called, why confidence is a secret to great leaders. But if you’re like a lot of my audiences, you’re like, no, but don’t stop there. Karyn, you said that we can learn this, right? These are skills we can learn. Yes, we can learn it.

So the last few minutes, I’m going to talk about how all of us can learn to sit in the middle chair when we take action. There’s a lot of ways to do it, but let me highlight a few for you. The first thing I want us to really focus in on is we’ve got to be incredibly, just really pause and think about the thoughts that we tell ourselves. What are you telling yourself? And the thought that I would love all of us to really absorb is this: You are enough, period. No buts, no ifs, no conditions, end of story. You are enough, period.

I want you to just absorb that for a second. Just let that sink in. If you really believed it, if you really believed it, how would you live your life differently? What would you say yes to? And what would you say no to? Who would you surround yourself with and who would you distance yourself from? And what kind of gutsy goals would you go after? If you really believed, I am enough, period.

This is something I have learned professionally. This is something I have learned personally. This is me in grade eight. I’m not loving the haircut, I’m going to be honest. It’s a little bit of a bowl haircut and the line’s not even straight. But you know what? That’s not the point.

The point is that I was not a happy girl. If I had seen this presentation in grade eight, I would have completely connected to this chair for a lot of reasons. But the main reason was I was struggling in school. I found school really challenging. And so my parents sent me to get tested.

I’m sitting in this guy’s office. He’s an educational consultant. And he says to me in a very unempathetic tone of voice, he says, Karyn, we know what the problem is. I don’t know how to tell you this. You’ve got a learning disability and I think you’ll be lucky to finish high school.

I didn’t even know how to process that information. I was devastated. I went home and I’m walking home and I’m so angry. I’m angry at the school. I’m angry at this teacher. I’m angry he doesn’t like me. He’s got favorite. He’s a bad teacher. I’m like blaming him. I’m just like filled with anger. And as I’m walking home and I’m just blaming everybody, I’m just filled with anger. I’m playing the victim. I had this very powerful thought that said this. Karyn, you cannot control the fact you’ve got this disability. But you can control how you respond to it. So what are you going to do?

And all of a sudden I realized I’m focusing on the wrong thing. I’m focusing on this instead of focusing on this. I can’t control this. I can control this. I can control my attitude and I can control my actions. And all of a sudden, as soon as I realized that, I had like this burst of hope. I ran home. I ran up to my room. I sat down on my thick green carpet and I started making a list of every single thing I could control in my circumstance.

I decided that day when my parents came home that I was going to get help. I wanted to talk to the school. They were like, what’s happened to you? And then I decided that the next day I would actually meet with my head of guidance. I met with every single one of my teachers. I have a learning disability. I really want to do well. Would you help me? Could I come in at lunchtime after school?

I stopped playing the victim. I stopped playing the victim. So many of us, we can stay stuck. We can focus on all the things that we cannot control. Life is not fair. Once we kind of understand that and we focus on, we can keep staring at it, but it doesn’t do actually anything. We all have obstacles. Some of us have a lot. Some of us have a few.

But we all have things that we cannot control. The more we focus on it, it makes us feel defeated. The more we focus on us, it gives us hope and it empowers us. And that is the secret to learning how to sit in the middle chair. So we need to stop blaming, stop playing the victim, focus on what we can control, which is our attitude and our actions, and take responsibility.

ALSO READ:  Win the Game of Life with Sport Psychology: Jonathan Fader (Transcript)

The second thing we can do is we can set realistic goals. Actually, goal setting is an amazing way to learn to sit in the middle chair. But you have to be careful with it. You’ve got to make sure you set the goal realistic. You give it everything you’ve got. You step on the gas. You take initiative. You ask for help. You strive for excellence, not perfection. Strive for excellence. And then you accept whatever your best. Why? Because I am enough. I’m not enough if I get this goal… I am enough, period.

And with that, you get a sense of peace. And what we find with this is when people really have that mindset, they’re more likely to get the goals. They’re more likely in terms of their productivity and also emotional well-being. It’s like one big package. It’s like a bonus. When you focus on one, you get two for free. It’s so powerful.

And the third one is to seek feedback. Feedback is the accelerator. Feedback is so powerful. People in the middle chair, they are feedback hungry. Why? Because they have that growth mindset. I don’t know. I know a lot, but I don’t know everything. So they’re feedback hungry.

Over here, I’m feedback fragile because I’m personalized to feedback. The person here is that they kind of vote. They ask for feedback from their colleagues, their spouse, their kids, their friends. What am I doing well? What needs work? Use it as data to help us grow. That’s what actually pulls us in this middle chair. This is a lot to absorb in a TED Talk.

But my hope is this, is that you are feeling hopeful right now. You are feeling hopeful and inspired to know that you also can become a great leader who sits in this middle chair when we take action. Is this easy? No. I never use the word easy. Is it possible? Absolutely. And this is a blueprint for success.

Thank you.


Dr. Karyn Gordon’s talk, titled “Why Confidence Is The Secret To Great Leaders At Work & Home,” explores the profound impact of confidence on leadership, decision-making, and relationships. In this 500-word summary, we will highlight the key takeaways from her talk.

  1. Confidence as the Key: Dr. Gordon emphasizes that confidence is not just about self-assuredness but is an attitude that shapes how we think, feel, and behave. It is a critical factor in leadership, emotional intelligence, career success, health, relationships, and overall happiness.
  2. Learnable Skill: One of the central messages of her talk is that confidence is a skill that can be learned by everyone. It is not an innate trait, and anyone can develop the necessary confidence to be successful in various aspects of life.
  3. Three Attitudes – The Three Chairs Model: Dr. Gordon introduces the Three Chairs Model as a simple concept to understand the three prevailing attitudes related to confidence. These attitudes significantly impact how individuals interact with others and make decisions.
  • The Blind Attitude: This chair represents individuals who constantly put themselves down, fill their minds with toxic thoughts, and are critical towards themselves. They struggle to recognize their own value and worth.
  • The Disguised Attitude: People sitting in this chair may appear confident but often use arrogance to cover up their insecurity. They may put others down and exhibit a lack of respect for themselves and others.
  • The Confident Attitude: This chair represents individuals who possess a balanced sense of self-worth. They neither put themselves nor others down. They are open to feedback, have a growth mindset, and strive to uplift and empower those around them.
  1. Impact on Decision-Making and Leadership: The attitudes associated with these chairs significantly influence decision-making and leadership styles. Those in the Confident Attitude chair tend to handle conflicts, feedback, and challenges more effectively by focusing on problem-solving and taking responsibility.
  2. Relationships and Attraction: Dr. Gordon explains that the chair individuals sit in can also impact the relationships they form. People often unconsciously attract or are attracted to those who share similar attitudes. For example, someone sitting in the Blind Attitude chair may be drawn to individuals who put them down, creating unhealthy dynamics.
  3. Take Action to Move to the Middle Chair: Dr. Gordon encourages individuals to take action to move towards the Confident Attitude chair. This involves changing the way they think, setting realistic goals, seeking feedback, and taking responsibility for their actions.
  4. Believing “I am enough”: A powerful message she delivers is the importance of internalizing the belief that “I am enough, period.” This mindset shift can transform how individuals approach life, their goals, and their relationships.
  5. Stop Blaming and Take Control: Dr. Gordon advises against playing the victim and instead focusing on what can be controlled—attitude and actions. By accepting responsibility for their responses to challenges, individuals can foster a sense of empowerment and hope.
  6. Set Realistic Goals and Embrace Excellence: Goal setting is a valuable tool for building confidence. However, it’s crucial to set realistic goals and strive for excellence, not perfection. Embracing the idea that “I am enough” allows for a sense of peace and satisfaction in one’s achievements.
  7. Embrace Feedback: Those in the Confident Attitude chair actively seek feedback because they have a growth mindset. They use feedback as a tool for personal and professional development, allowing them to continually improve.

In her talk, Dr. Karyn Gordon provides a blueprint for individuals to develop confidence and become more effective leaders and decision-makers in both their personal and professional lives. Confidence, she asserts, is a skill that can be learned, and by adopting the right attitude and taking action, anyone can become a more confident and successful individual.

Related Posts