Confidence is not a quality that you gain once and keep forever. If you are growing as a leader, then confidence challenges will keep coming back.
There is a subtle lie that says: once you’re a leader, you are supposed to be confident all the time. People expect it on the outside, and so I should feel confident on the inside. This lie reminds me of the deodorant commercials that came out when I was a kid, like the one that said, “Never let them see you sweat,” or the jingle, “Confidence! Confidence! Strong and secure. Raise your hand, raise your hand if you’re Sure!”
That kind of unwavering confidence has not been my experience. Instead, I have regularly faced challenges that caused me to question my abilities. The stakes get higher, the mountains get bigger, the giants get stronger, and once again, I wonder whether I have what it takes to succeed again. I have built and grown three organizations in my career, including the one I lead today. All three of them are still thriving. But just because the first two succeeded, it doesn’t mean I get a pass from the confidence battle in my current role.
Constant confidence may be an unrealistic standard, but there is a way to fight and win the battle again and again. When I fight it well, the struggle progresses through three stages on the mental battlefield, leading to decisive action in the real world.
Stage 1 - Confront Your Fear Story
Whenever I find my confidence wavering, or my stress and anxiety levels rising, I’ve learned to turn around and confront my Fear Story. Start by asking: “What story am I telling myself that is undermining my confidence?” Usually, that story has some element that I have allowed to be blown out of proportion – something I am treating as new or bigger or different, whether it actually is or not.
The Fear Story says: it’s a bigger client, it’s a more competitive environment, it’s a more challenging assignment. These are all exaggerated elements, and fear makes them seem bigger than they are. When you confront your Fear Story, you must identify what it is you are telling yourself that makes the challenge seem like it is too big for you.
Stage 2 – Remember Your Back Story
I did not end up where I am today by accident – and neither did you. By remembering your Back Story, you deliberately call to mind the challenges that you faced, endured, and overcame in the past. Remember that those obstacles shook your confidence too, but you came out on the winning side. Your past performance is a strong indicator of your future performance.
It may be true that the current challenge is the first time you have done a deal of this size or had so much at stake. But it’s not the first time you ever had to take a risk, or step up, or push the envelope of your own abilities. Your Back Story reminds you that you have been on the edge before. You have taken a leap of faith before. And you discovered the ground was solid under your feet.
Stage 3 – Assert Your Self Story
The stories we tell ourselves are extremely powerful, but there are many narrators out there who will tell the story for you, including voices in your own mind. You have to get assertive, even aggressive, in telling the truth about yourself.
The word confidence comes from the Latin roots, con fidere: with trust, or with faith.
I am absolutely convinced that effective leadership requires faith. Faith in yourself, believing in yourself, is essential to confidence. Faith in yourself is not squishy, wishful self-promotion. Instead, I am talking about the hard ground, the firm footing of choosing to have faith in yourself and telling your story from the perspective of that faith. Maybe the reason the current obstacle has appeared is because the time has come for your view of yourself to expand.
Act Out Your Confidence Story
Up to now, the confidence battle has been going on inside where no one else can see, but you don’t win new confidence just by thinking about it. Your next action is to find out what the character in your Self Story would do now. Set the meeting, make the call, walk into their office, have the tough conversation, say no, step up.
Look for an action that most directly confronts the false elements of the Fear Story—an action that most truthfully represents the character of your True Story. This is the moment of moving past the fear with decisive action. Whether the action works or not is irrelevant. It’s taking that step that strikes the blow for new confidence.
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