No one—not even the most outwardly self-assured leader—is immune from periods of self-doubt and lack of self confidence. In fact, sometimes doubt can be healthy when it acts as an internal check. People with healthy self confidence are more adept at managing their inner experiences and better at learning from mistakes and failures. Their self confidence isn’t as fragile. But with other people, any setback tends to topple all of their dominoes in a row, bringing out their worst behaviors.
Robert Kelsey, in his book What’s Stopping You Being More Confident? (Capstone, 2012), recounts his own story as an entrepreneur and how lack of confidence became a self-fulfilling prophesy in a string of failed business ventures. For the past two decades he’s been exploring how to overcome his own barriers to success.
He explains that under-confidence gets ‘scripted’ in early childhood (the first six years) and causes all sorts of problems throughout one’s career. The effects of poor confidence show up in relationships, destroy career prospects, and cause under-achievement. People with self doubt and negative scripts either don’t set goals at all, or set the bar too low, to avoid risk, and play safe. To hide their fears and insecurities, they may appear angry, oppositional, or try to cover up with humor or avoidance.
“Our confidence (or otherwise) is developed in the tiny power plays between parent and child, between siblings or peers, and between teacher and pupil…Our scripts trap us, seemingly forever, on a destructive and dizzying roundabout of triggered reactions – generating familiar results over and over until no relationship seems complete until it becomes aligned with our primary childhood dynamic.” ~ Robert Kelsey, What’s Stopping You Being More Confident?
He learned that in spite of the strong negative pull of childhood scripts, one isn’t condemned to a life of under-achievement. Although poor confidence can’t be eliminated entirely, it can be managed by developing the required attributes for confidence as adults. Anyone can gain a more successful life through changing their actions.
Two major psychological concepts became important to Kelsey in his journey: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Carol Dweck’s research on a fixed mindset vs. a growth mindset. I’ve talked about Maslow’s Pyramid here and in my next post I’ll write more about to use it to overcome feelings of poor confidence that undermine success as a leader. After that, we’ll explore mindsets and how that helps one to gain confidence.