Series on Confidence Building – Enabling Success

From the quietly confident doctor whose advice we rely on, to the charismatic confidence of an inspiring speaker, self-confident people have qualities that everyone admires. But how does it effect the ability to become successful or not? Read on…

Self-confidence is extremely important in almost every aspect of our lives, yet so many people struggle to find it. Sadly, this can be a vicious circle: people who lack self-confidence can find it difficult to become successful.

After all, most people are reluctant to back a project that’s being pitched by someone who was nervous, fumbling, and overly apologetic.

On the other hand, you might be persuaded by someone who speaks clearly, who holds his or her head high, who answers questions assuredly, and who readily admits when he or she does not know something. Confident people inspire confidence in others: their audience, their peers, their bosses, their customers, and their friends. And gaining the confidence of others is one of the key ways in which a self-confident person finds success.

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team for a “lack of skill.” His confidence in himself kept him going. He kept on and even after making it pro he says he missed more than 9,000 shots, lost almost 300 games, and missed the game-winning shots 26 times.

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Series on Confidence Building – Self belief

Confidence is something that comes from within us. It is important thus, that we do everything we need to and feel good about ourselves. It does not matter what others might think about us. The first step to being confident is always being at our best and to think highly about ourselves.

Jim worked at a radio station all his life. He was a well-known and famous radio show host. He was one of the most confident individuals one would come across. He had an undeterred personality and would usually leave others in awe of his confidence and his self-belief.

All of his friends and colleagues knew him by one feature: if he’s on-air, he is always wearing a suit and a tie. They laughed at him: ‘No one ever sees you, why do you dress like that?’, but he always turned that into a joke. One day Jim was invited to appear on the TV. There was a show dedicated to the oldest radio employees. For the first time the people, who only knew him by his voice, would see him. Before the recording of the show, the director came to Jim and asked: “Usually you arrive on time, but today you are 10 minutes late. It’s not horrible, but I’m still interested, why?”

“You see,” Jim answered, “at the last moment when I was already dressed up, I noticed that I don’t have new socks. For the first time I was invited to the television, and I thought that simply wearing clean sock is not enough. It needs to be in new socks. So I needed to go to the store for socks.”

“But why do you need new socks?” The director was surprised. “You could have come without the socks, because we will be filming you only in close-up, over the waist.”

“You see, to be spotless on-air, I need to feel myself spotless in everything, starting with the shirt and finishing with the pen in my pocket. And if my socks have holes in them, or my shoes are dirty, I’m not spotless anymore.”

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Series on Confidence Building – Working on insecurities

It is very common to come across people who are talented, ambitious, and well-liked, yet they feel insecure. As they push themselves to try new things and network with more senior people in the business they get “triggered.” They lose their point of center, and instead of showing up as the fabulous leader they know they can be, they play small, and momentarily believe that a small sandbox is where they are meant to be.

Natalie Michael, a well known and leading management consultant/coach tells us about how one of her clients worked through his insecurities and became more confident. In her own words,“One of my clients, we will call him John, was recently promoted to VP in a high growth company. He is a talented, hard working, funny, down to earth person with loving relationships in his life. He also has an excellent track record running high growth operations, and he has the ability to coach others and dive into the details when he needs to. The majority of the executive team supported his success and believed that he is the best person for the VP role.

But, when he was promoted to VP he lost his confidence (temporarily). Instead of being the great leader he is he kept quiet in key meetings, and instead of sharing his perspective and strategic insights he deferred to others. Why? He told me that he just didn’t think he had much to contribute to his “experienced and smart” peers. After some coaching work he now knows this is not the case.

So, what was the coaching work we did to turn this around? First, I sent him a document that highlights the difference between confidence and self-esteem. From studying the work of Nathaniel Branden, the “father of self-esteem,” I understand that self-esteem comes from a belief that you are wrong or bad in some way as a person, and confidence is more contextual. For example, I can have healthy self-esteem, yet not feel confident about expressing an opinion on brain surgery in a room of surgeons. For John, it was clear that his confidence was contextual.

Second, we explored John’s confidence triggers. That is, we looked at what specific situations would rock him off his best self. I had him complete six emotional trigger records in a variety of situations which derailed him. Doing this work (which took quite a bit of effort on his part) allowed us to see the beliefs and emotional patterns which emerged during insecure situations. For example, one unproductive belief was that it wasn’t okay to be learning his new role and somehow he should “know” how everything works. For him, adopting the learner mindset was helpful.

Third, we looked at cognitive thinking biases. That is, we had him figure out what happened to his thinking when he was insecure. Was he overly negative? Catastrophizing (imagining overly negative things would happen)? Or, was there an empathy gap (the tendency to be highly self-critical and lack empathy towards himself). When he pin pointed his biases he had an a-ha moment. “My mind is playing tricks on me. It helps to be aware of what is happening.” Then, we looked at more balanced and realistic thoughts compared to the negative biases that were chattering in his brain.

Fourth, we evaluated the physical warning signs that he was being triggered. We looked at his breathing, his body, his walk, his palms, and how the physical sensations of insecurity travelled through him. Then, we came up with a strategy for noticing when the physical sensations were starting up (usually this was the pre-cursor to the negative thinking) and he came up with a personalized technique for creating a moment of space so that the sensations would not escalate.

Fifth, we created a confidence “toolbox.” This consisted of 10 strategies that were totally customized to his needs and situation and that would help him re-center and ground himself in confident energy. Items in his toolbox were centering practices before key meetings, ensuring he was prepared, asking questions when the critical voice started to emerge, and taking stock of what went well each day and his role in creating these positive outcomes (a big one for him). This is stuff he knew how to do, yet he wasn’t connecting not doing these practices with his confidence plummet.

With all of these strategies deployed he started to understand that his confidence issues were contextual (and not an indication of his talent or potential), and they could be prevented if he anticipated his triggers, paid attention to his body, was prepared before key meetings, and he watched the negative thinking biases that took him down the rabbit hole. He recognized that when he was stretching himself he needed to do more of this personal work, not less, and the same principles that applied to him also applied to his kids and his direct reports. The multiplier benefits of his toolbox was gravy.

I am happy to report that he is thriving in his role.”

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Series on Building Confidence – One step at a time

Confidence is always touted as one of the most important factors to succeed in any profession. A little bit of confidence can open up huge avenues and make you do things you didn’t even think you were capable of.

As part of Henny’s training in her new job, she was invited to take part in a training module on the early detection of eye disorders among children. Initially, she lacked confidence as she had never sat together with doctors and eye health experts before. She also felt she did not have experience outside of her daily duties as a nurse. However, she later attended a meeting of the module organizers where she gave input about how the module could be improved and her ideas were accepted, which pleased her.

Following an internship on a pediatric ward, she was invited to help develop a module on how to train others to screen children’s eyes. The development team consisted of ophthalmologists, refractionists, opticians/optometrists, nurses and trainers from the provincial, city and regency departments of health, and was supported by child eye health specialists.

After several meetings, the team of ‘master trainers’ had to present the modules that they had developed. She had never expected to take the role of a master trainer. However, with encouragement from other members of the team, Henny presented a session to the others, who gave her feedback on how to improve her presentation skills. Although she only had five people attending her first training session for other trainers, she felt very nervous. Over time, however, her confidence has grown. She has found that her experience – as an eye nurse who deals with children every day – strengthens her teaching, as it provides her with many practical examples of eye disorders she can share.

When she was asked if there were major changes in herself after becoming a trainer of trainers, Henny said: “The first time I delivered a training session, I prayed that none of the participants would ask questions. But now, it is me who prompts, ‘Is there anything you want to ask?’.” Her dealings with patients have also changed. “Now, my delivery and tone of voice are a bit different. I am more patient and more detailed when explaining something,” she said.

Henny has gained a lot by working at the eye health clinic for children. In addition to increasing her knowledge and making friends, she also gained the trust of her supervisor and colleagues in dealing with patients, particularly children. “If the intention is good, everything will go well, the main point is that I am happy working with children and collaborating with HKI,” she says.


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Series on Confidence Building – Tackling Insecurity

Very few people succeed in business without a degree of confidence. Yet everyone, from young people in their first real jobs to seasoned leaders in the upper ranks of organizations, have moments — or days, months, or even years — when they are unsure of their ability to tackle challenges. No one is immune to these bouts of insecurity at work, but they don’t have to hold you back.

What the Experts Say “Confidence equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance,” says Tony Schwartz, the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live. And yet he concedes that “insecurity plagues consciously or subconsciously every human being I’ve met.” Overcoming this self-doubt starts with honestly assessing your abilities (and your shortcomings) and then getting comfortable enough to capitalize on (and correct) them, adds Deborah H. Gruenfeld, the Moghadam Family Professor of Leadership and Organizational Behavior and Co-Director of the Executive Program for Women Leaders at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Here’s how to do that and get into the virtuous cycle that Schwartz describes.

Preparation- Your piano teacher was right: practice does make perfect. “The best way to build confidence in a given area is to invest energy in it and work hard at it,” says Schwartz. Many people give up when they think they’re not good at a particular job or task, assuming the exertion is fruitless. But Schwartz argues that deliberate practice will almost always trump natural aptitude. If you are unsure about your ability to do something — speak in front of large audience, negotiate with a tough customer — start by trying out the skills in a safe setting. “Practice can be very useful, and is highly recommended because in addition to building confidence, it also tends to improve quality. Actually deliver the big presentation more than once before the due date. Do a dry run before opening a new store,” says Gruenfeld. Even people who are confident in their abilities can become more so with better preparation.

Get out of your own way – Confident people aren’t only willing to practice, they’re also willing to acknowledge that they don’t — and can’t — know everything. “It’s better to know when you need help, than not,” says Gruenfeld. “A certain degree of confidence — specifically, confidence in your ability to learn — is required to be willing to admit that you need guidance or support.”

On the flip side, don’t let modesty hold you back. People often get too wrapped up in what others will think to focus on what they have to offer, says Katie Orenstein, founder and director of The OpEd Project, a non-profit that empowers women to influence public policy by submitting opinion pieces to newspapers. “When you realize your value to others, confidence is no longer about self-promotion,” she explains. “In fact, confidence is no longer the right word. It’s about purpose.” Instead of agonizing about what others might think of you or your work, concentrate on the unique perspective you bring.

Get feedback when you need it – While you don’t want to completely rely on others’ opinions to boost your ego, validation can also be very effective in building confidence. Gruenfeld suggests asking someone who cares about your development as well as the quality of your performance to tell you what she thinks. Be sure to pick people whose feedback will be entirely truthful; Gruenfeld notes that when performance appraisals are only positive, we stop trusting them. And then use any genuinely positive commentary you get as a talisman.

Also remember that some people need more support than others, so don’t be shy about asking for it. “The White House Project finds, for example, that many women need to be told they should run for office before deciding to do so. Men do not show this pattern of needing others’ validation or encouragement,” says Gruenfeld. It’s okay if you need praise.

Take risks – Playing to your strengths is a smart tactic but not if it means you hesitate to take on new challenges. Many people don’t know what they are capable of until they are truly tested “Try things you don’t think you can do. Failure can be very useful for building confidence,” says Gruenfeld. Of course, this is often easier said than done. “It feels bad to not be good at something. There’s a leap of faith with getting better at anything,” says Schwartz. But don’t assume you should feel good all the time. In fact, stressing yourself is the only way to grow. Enlisting help from others can make this easier. Gruenfeld recommends asking supervisors to let you experiment with new initiatives or skills when the stakes are relatively low and then to support you as you tackle those challenges.

Principles to Remember


•Be honest with yourself about what you know and what you still need to learn

•Practice doing the things you are unsure about

•Embrace new opportunities to prove you can do difficult things


•Focus excessively on whether you or not you have the ability – think instead about the value you provide

•Hesitate to ask for external validation if you need it

•Worry about what others think — focus on yourself, not a theoretical and judgmental audience

Source: Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo

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Series on Confidence Building – Self belief

Confidence means having belief in yourself and in your abilities. It is important that you understand your value and know what you bring to the table. Only you can stop yourself back from succeeding.

Julie Zhuo knew she had things to say but she wasn’t sure how to get heard. As a product design manager at Facebook, she had developed valuable expertise in the products she worked on. Yet, she lacked the confidence to share her ideas. She was used to being one of very few women in the room. That had been the case when she was studying computer science at Stanford and it was still true now that she was at Facebook. She knew this meant she needed to make a concerted effort to speak up. But being the minority voice wasn’t the only reason she felt unsure of herself. She says that she also suffered from “imposter syndrome,” feeling as if she hadn’t earned a right to her ideas; she had somehow ended up where she was accidently, not through hard work.

Julie was intrigued when someone in HR told her about a workshop offered at Stanford by the Op-Ed Project. After attending and getting positive feedback about her ideas, Julie tried something she had never thought to do before: write an op-ed.

Last November, she published a piece in the New York Times about the danger of anonymity in online discussions. “It was a matter of someone saying you can do it,” she explains. “It had never occurred to me that I could be published. But it actually wasn’t hard at all.” The reaction she got in the workshop and afterward back at Facebook boosted her confidence. “Since then, she’s gotten a lot of support from colleagues, which has emboldened her to speak her mind. “Of course it’s still a work in progress, but now I’m a much more confident speaker and writer,” she says.

Source: Harvard Business Review, Amy Gallo

Categorized as Media