How To Overcome Self-Doubt

This week I’ve spent time with two different leaders who are at very different stages of their careers. One leader is a general manager with years of experience and the
21 Jul 2018 11:00
How To Overcome Self-Doubt

This week I’ve spent time with two different leaders who are at very different stages of their careers.

One leader is a general manager with years of experience and the other leader has just been appointed to a management role and is just starting their leadership journey.

Two leaders with very different back­grounds but both approached me because they have a similar challenge, a challenge which faces many leaders regardless of their background or the industry they work in and that challenge is that they are lacking confi­dence.

We expect our leaders to be confident, strong and decisive and when leaders start doubting themselves then that self-doubt can spread to the team and can become a real issue.

If people start doubting the leader then the team’s mission itself starts becoming doubt­ful.

It’s a problem one which every leader faces at some point.

So how does a leader deal with this lack of confidence.

Self-doubt is natural

Every leader goes through moments of self doubt so you are not alone and even though you think you are.

When I train leaders I always tell them that a lack of confidence is natural, in fact it’s your inbuilt self-defence mechanism click­ing in.

Your mind craves certainty, knowing the outcome of an event makes it more likely that you will get a positive outcome so when there’s uncertainty, your mind senses poten­tial danger which is why you feel the way you do.

Your mind is trying to warn you and wants you to change your behaviour.

You just need to know how to change.

Preparation removes doubt

Imagine any task you have faced which made you feel doubtful about your ability be­forehand.

Perhaps a presentation or a difficult meet­ing.

Now think about how you felt after you had completed that task three or four times.

After each time you become more and more confident.

So what happened was with every subse­quent attempt your mind gathered more information which increased the level of certainty therefore reducing that feeling of doubt.

You can fast track this process by simply preparing better. Whether it’s a presentation or a difficult meeting the more you prepare, the more you run through what will happen, the more confident you will feel.

Talk to someone

Leadership is a lonely position. When you are one of the team, it’s fine to talk about an­ything that has been building up inside you, yet when you are a leader your words have far more impact and when you speak you are not just speaking for yourself, you are also representing the organisation you work for.

A solution is to find someone outside your team, maybe a fellow leader, a close friend or a family member, someone with a track record of being supportive and share your concerns.

They don’t even have to have the answers you will find that just being able to talk things through with someone will help you a lot.

Fail forward

The only way to guarantee not having any feelings of self doubt is to take on only tasks that you can easily perform, and while this solves the confidence issue it doesn’t help you long term.

If you don’t grow, you don’t improve and you don’t become the leader you are capable of becoming.

You will fail, it’s inevitable and it’s fine be­cause each failure brings with it an opportu­nity to learn and when you learn you become a better leader.

This is called failing forward. Every suc­cessful leader I have ever met has failed many times and it’s because of these failures not despite them that they have eventually become so successful. Failure is the price of success.

Seek feedback

When you are part of a team you are judged by what you do yet when you are a leader you are judged by what others and your team does.

This can be a difficult transition. You go from being quite aware of how you are doing into a role where it’s more difficult to evalu­ate.

This creates uncertainty and when uncer­tainty exists so does self doubt.

Every leader needs to have a clear definition of success with clear metrics so that they al­ways know if they are on track.

If you are unsure about how you are do­ing seek feedback from your boss and those around you.

This is fine as long as you frame it in the way that you are seeking ways to improve but be warned if you do this on a regular ba­sis then you are likely to come across as in­secure and no one wants an insecure leader.

Whether you are about to start your leader­ship journey or if you are well on your way, self doubt will always be waiting to accom­pany you on your journey.

Self-doubt is a sign that you need to do more work in order to better and once you face this doubt you will be better prepared for when doubt comes knocking again.

Eleanor Roosevelt, former United States First Lady, once said “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.

“You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this fear. I can take the next thing that comes along.”


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