Updated: Sep 27, 2021
Alyssa Dver is a world renowned expert on The Neuroscience and Social Secrets of Confidence. She’s the co-founder of the American Confidence Institute, and author of seven books, including her latest “Confidence is a Choice: Real Science. Superhero Impact.”
In her keynote speeches and workshops, Alyssa entertains, educates and empowers audiences so they can better manage their own and other people’s confidence.
In our Q&A session with Alyssa Dver, we explore her career journey as a Confidence Crusader and expert. We also look at her career influences, perspectives, and the value proposition of her company, the American Confidence Institute.
Hi Alyssa. Thank you for participating in this Q&A session. We would like to start by exploring your origin story. Please give us an overview of your background, career milestones and your journey as a business leader?
Alyssa: My journey is best summarized as a professional, passion-driven pilgrimage to understand precisely how and why people are confident, or not. I have an unwavering commitment to help myself and other growth-minded people to be comfortable in their own skin. Life is too short to feel uneasy, and when you are confident, you can do and be more of what you really want to be.
With a business degree in hand, I entered the corporate workforce as a product manager and soon moved into marketing management. I led both types of functions at software companies back in the 90s, and early 2000s when the internet was emerging. I started my career in the Boston area, then moved to the South of France, and later Cincinnati, OH, before coming back to Boston where I live now.
In the past 15 years, I’ve had 5 successful startups of my own, advised several hundred companies from around the globe, and had a few interim CMO engagements that reminded me how much I appreciate being an entrepreneur! In addition to the startups, I am also an author and I have written 7 books to dates. My latest book “Confidence is a Choice: Real Science. Superhero Impact” was written in 2020 and is an International Book Award Finalist.
I am very proud of the work I put into this book. It was endorsed by Harvard Medical School, Harvard Management School, MIT, Wharton’s Entrepreneurial Centres, Yale’s Office of Diversity, UC Berkeley Executive Ed, and many other academic, business and non-profit leaders.
For over 20 years, I have studied the art and science of public speaking which certainly helped my 2020 TEDx talk, as well as the keynotes and workshops that I am honoured to deliver literally every week. I recently kicked off a new podcast series called, “Real Confidence: science, secrets & a touch of tough love”. I am also a regular contributor to Thrive Global and a judge for the annual Stevie awards.
What originally attracted you to Confidence Coaching as an area of specialisation?
Alyssa: I found myself learning brain science after my older son was diagnosed with a serious neurological condition called Dystonia. Witnessing the inconsistencies and lack of confidence coming from the top doctors in the world, I found the maternal motivation to challenge convention. I studied all kinds of Eastern techniques as well as formal scientific research on breakthrough brain science, psychology and sociology.
I interviewed medical and alternative wellness experts from all over the world. When I pulled it all together and presented it back to all these narrow-lens practitioners, my cross-disciplinary, ego-less thinking was welcomed in a world that keeps tight boundaries around what experts can think and advise. I found myself getting calls from them intrigued by what I had figured out. More importantly, I was able to help my son and unlock the long-sought science and social secrets of how confidence works so that anyone can learn the skill.
Has your leadership journey been influenced by your background and/or any business leaders?
Alyssa: There are many people that all taught me how to use the human superpower we all have which is to give confidence to others. Two stand out as early influencers for me in my journey so far. The first was a mentor who I worked for, and we remained friends now for 30+ years. He is from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and while I don’t always share his opinions or values, I greatly admire his attitude, especially about other people. He never talks down or differently to anyone, whether they are housekeeping in a hotel or CEO of the chain. He sees everyone as supremely human and capable. It drives his behaviours in all circumstances and allows everyone to feel good about themselves. This is true leadership.
Another role model was a former colleague who was such an astute listener, it almost made others uncomfortable. However, what he did was to collect and consider everyone’s perspectives and only then contribute his own. He was incredibly thoughtful, not just of other people’s feelings but of empowering everyone to be part of the solution. Again, this was an outstanding leadership example and he’s gone on to start and remain CEO of one of the largest and best known travel sites in the world.
What are the key challenges you have faced in your career and in your journey as a business leader?
Alyssa: In every type of job or organization, we are all challenged with making good decisions, especially with the plethora of choices we have for everything these days. There are a large number of online posts about how to make ideal career decisions, and how to run your business better.
The challenge for everyone, including me, is to tune out all the noise – all the people that tell me, you should do more of something – more blogging, more podcasting, more SEO, more, more, more…Yet I find the best strategy is to decide to focus on the things that I can and want to do well. This takes faithful courage as well as daily discipline. I need to remind myself constantly that the work and focus are hard, and if others can do it, so can I.
I have also learned that doing my best includes taking breaks and recharging neural pathways so I can be my smartest and most productive, which does not always mean working harder or faster.
The second biggest challenge in my career has been to redefine what success is. Coming out of an elite business school, I was brainwashed to think money, direct reports, popularity and other quantitative measures were the ultimate goal. Now I know the depth and relevance of the impact you have is much more important than the material metrics.
I fundamentally know that if you aim to do great work with a win-win approach, great results happen. You can’t fake it till you make it, and what goes around does eventually come around. When you operate from a place of inclusivity and abundance, you do get those back.
How does one become a Confidence Crusader?
Alyssa: Everyone can be a confidence crusader whether you are a manager, individual contributor, CEO, parent, relative, friend or everyday citizen.
Anytime you tell someone they are important to you, you let them know they belong and matter. When you call out something they did as awesome, when you tell them how much you appreciate them for what they did, when you admit they are inspirational in some way to you, you then fuel their confidence and sustained their productive self-beliefs.
We all have this superpower and yet few people use it enough. Beyond simple acts of confidence, anyone can be an ad hoc or pro coach by being a thought partner to help others learn self-confidence. The key is to ask open ended, non-judgmental questions that identify the real problem and find the fear that is causing them to self-doubt. It’s like the old adage about teaching a man to fish. When you hand them the fish/answer, you don’t give them the confidence to do it themselves next time. Great coaches facilitate the process of confident decision making and provide supportive accountability, so their clients gain real confidence to be able to do it on their own.
You Co-founded the American Confidence Institute (ACI). Please give us an overview of what the ACI does, its value proposition and its target market?
Alyssa: The fifth book I published, “Ms. Informed: Wake Up Wisdom for Women” caught the eye of the manager sourcing info for HR.com’s leadership community. She lovingly nagged me for 2 years to develop the confidence dataset and messaging for a corporate, boardroom audience. Together we established ACI in 2015 to collect and conduct confidence research, which we then developed so that anyone could benefit from it, not just senior executives or high-performance people.
My co-founder left ACI in 2017 to become a professor. Since then, I’ve been blessed to have many other brilliant partners that allowed ACI to support over 350,000 leaders, women and underserved individuals. The common characteristic is they are smart, hardworking, and motivated individuals, who are held back from doing or being something they want because they fear failure, regret or rejection. This fear knowingly paralyzes or hardens them.
They are frustrated and disappointed in themselves. They never feel they are enough or equal to others, and this seeps out of their personalities as aggression, shyness, or anxiety. They usually lack respect in themselves and subsequently from others. Their lack of confidence is visible to others which isn’t fixable by learning executive presence or presentation techniques.
The visible discomfort is caused by a misalignment with the person’s own values, needs and wants. Once that is solved, all else can be, too. ACI works from the inside out with people who want more confidence and are willing to be honest with themselves to get it. Unlike other confidence consultants or organizations, we don’t preach high level ‘Shoulds’, but rather use tools and techniques that are proven through science. Thousands of people learn how to more productively operate their own brains, so their behaviours and desired outcomes can follow.
Let's talk about your book "Confidence is a Choice". What is this book about, where did the inspiration of this book come from, and who is its target audience?
Alyssa: The book is a continuation of research and application of concepts from my 6th book, “Kickass Confidence”. It talks about how “Choice” declares definitionally and neurologically, that confidence is something you decide to have. In fact, it argues that you don’t feel or become confident, rather you are either confident or not, much like being pregnant! It is a state of being when you are certain enough about the truth of something and as it applies to ourselves. The truth about what we value, need and want.
When we are clear enough about who we are, we can then act, react and interact with confidence. I prove this using brain science and data. However, the goal with “Choice” and all my work is to make it accessible to anyone that wants to have confidence for themselves and to help others. The book is packed with tools, tips and techniques to coach and self-coach. It is an interactive tour of what confidence is, how it works in our brains and behaviours, how to control it in and about yourself, as well as, how to specifically help others with their confidence, too.
In a number of media outlets you’ve said confidence is a learned skill. You have also said confidence isn’t the result of success, it is a requirement for it. Please can you explain this further, and do you mean that one cannot be successful if they lack confidence?
Alyssa: Confidence isn’t genetic or a matter of luck. We all learn how to be confident at a young age. Children are fearless in what they say, do and wear, until we turn 16 (on average) then we are expected to behave within the boundaries of social acceptance. It is then our confidence is locked down and doesn’t break free until we are 60 (on average). Then we finally realize no one else’s opinions about us really matter except our own. So technically, no one lacks confidence. We all just need to learn how to liberate it.
Regardless of what you consider success, confidence gives you the fuel to achieve it faster and I could argue to live fully. You won’t be able to accomplish any goal if you don’t truly believe you can do it. No one else’s story or encouragement will make that happen. You can learn how to overcome the fears that make us irrational, defensive and otherwise stunted. Just knowing this is happening can be comforting, and amazing things happen when someone sees their own confidence break free because they take conscience control of their own confidence. They then feel empowered to speak up in meetings, present proudly, go after what they want, and can stay focused. They feel more fulfilled, happier, and stronger. They lose the guilt and stress of living insecurely.
Before we conclude the interview, what advice do you have on how for become a confident business leader?
Alyssa: First, know you are normal. The vast majority is not confident, even if they act as if they are! No one gets a free pass to just be confident. And unfortunately, there are confidence kryptonite and villains all over that are constantly trying to steal and erode our confidence. We can blame social media but people gossip, brag, ignore, talk over and do other things that diminish the other people’s confidence.
We get so used to these forms of bullying, we hardly notice it is happening to us or we are doing it to others.
Confidence is an intentional practice and deliberate decision. Just like any skill, you learn to be confident and even experts falter at times.
However, confident people embrace mistakes, they seek challenges, and they recognize stress as a signal because it all enables growth. Stability is overrated because life isn’t that way. Building strong core confidence lets you live knowing you can handle the unexpected and enjoy the journey. Waiting until you’re 60 simply sucks. I want to give everyone the chance to have an un-regrettable life and unforgettable impact.
Thank you Alyssa for participating in this Q&A session. We wish you all the best.
Alyssa: Thank you.
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