Self-confidence is an essential leadership trait. But what happens when it crashes...?
Nothing stops leadership effectiveness dead in its tracks faster than self-doubt. In a split second you can go from feeling clear, confident and on top of the world to shattered, anxious and seriously doubting everything you thought was right.
As a widely respected and popular executive leader, Christine was on a roll following a number of recent successes.
Her team had finally resolved a complex issue that had been plaguing the business for years. She had gained Board approval for an ambitious strategy that would significantly improve market share and she’d won a prestigious industry leadership award.
Riding high on a wave of self-confidence, she simply didn’t see the meteor before it hit. Out of the blue (and with no time to prepare), she was summoned to an urgent meeting with the CEO.
With scant detail, she was advised that one of her team was under investigation for a serious security breach that could lead to criminal charges. This had happened on her watch and she was accountable.
As such, she would be sent on ‘gardening leave', pending the investigation, and was not to communicate with anyone about this.
Mortified, head spinning and stomach churning, she returned to her desk where her system access had already been revoked. Collecting her bag she headed home, agonising over how stupid and naïve she had been….
While most of us will thankfully never face a situation as seemingly dire as Christine, Self-Confidence Crushers can impact all of us at any time.
Like a lightning strike, they can hit quickly and take a long time to recover from. Worse still, the impacts become self-doubt perpetuators. Anxiety-fueled, sleepless nights become the norm and you go from (mostly) enjoying your work to dreading it.
Thankfully, it doesn’t need to be like this and there are ways to avoid Self-Confidence Crushers or bounce back quickly when they do strike.
So let’s take a look at the 5 most common culprits – how to recognise and overcome them.
Self-Confidence Crusher #1: Being Blind Sided (aka GOTCHAs)
Gotchas are the confidence crushers that come out of nowhere with the added element of shock and surprise. These are the ones you simply didn’t see coming and the impact is often instant.
Caught unawares you feel unprepared and instantly forced onto the back foot. Natural instincts of defensiveness and self-protection kick in and like Christine, you’re left reeling.
Self doubt trumps confidence as you scramble to make sense of how this unexpected and unwelcome event happened.
As shock moves on, other confidence crushing emotions creep in – regret, guilt, anger, frustration, embarrassment and disempowerment. Together, they create a toxic cocktail and left unchecked, can create lasting damage to your self-belief and mental well being.
Self-Confidence Crusher #2: Making Mistakes (aka when we ‘stuff up’)
‘To err is human’ but few of us welcome or relish the opportunity of making a mistake! At best, it feels uncomfortable. At worst, it can have serious consequences that will be associated with you for a long time.
If the mistake was avoidable, others will quickly lose confidence in you and yet it’s likely that no one will beat you up more than you!
This is one of those times when your inner critic will go to town and the noisier it gets, the more your self confidence plummets.
‘Raking over the details of what happened, you naturally question your judgement which further erodes your self-belief. While hindsight is a wonderful thing, it’s rarely a confidence booster.
Self-Confidence Crusher #3: Risk Aversion (aka fear of failure)
Like the tightening grip of a vice, risk aversion squeezes self-confidence to a point where it cannot breathe. Without confidence we can’t move forward or backward and become paralysed by fear. Our minds go to all the ‘What if…?’ terrible things that could happen, while the equal number of potentially positive outcomes are drowned out.
Without confidence, it’s small wonder that the fear of what could go wrong prevents us from taking even the smallest of risks.
Confidence crushers that accompany risk aversion include procrastination, over-analysis, indecisiveness and recrimination. Individually, all are self-perpetuating and unhelpful. Collectively, these ones can seriously impact your leadership credibility.
Self-Confidence Crusher #4: Seemingly Unjust Criticism (aka ‘THAT’S NOT FAIR!’)
Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do, that was downright unfair?
How did you feel?
Chances are that while your values of integrity and justice rode in on their white horses to instantly defend your decisions and actions, your self-confidence will have taken a big hit.
Although she felt she’d done nothing wrong and holding her accountable was unfair, Christine’s self-doubt exploded and self-confidence evaporated.
She poured over everything that had led to her being stood down, second-guessing every decision she’d made and action she’d taken. Swinging between disbelief and outrage, the gut-wrenching ball in her stomach made her feel constantly nauseous.
Self-Confidence Crusher #5: Feeling like a fraud (aka Imposter Syndrome)
One of the biggest problems with this self-confidence crusher is that it is insidious. Less obvious than the others, Imposter Syndrome sneaks in and shows up often in moments when you most need unwavering self-belief.
If you can relate to this one, it's likely a favourite confidence crusher you've probably carried around for a long time.
Often starting in childhood, the sense that you’re not good enough; only got to where you are through luck or chance and it’s only a matter of time before others realise you’re not up to the job, can follow us everywhere.
But Imposter Syndrome may not be what you think... (read more about it here) . Luckily, there are relatively simple ways to harness its’ power for good to regain and build your confidence.
Other common Self-Confidence Crushers include:
- Returning to work after a long absence - aka "I can't do this anymore!"
- Discovering the exciting new role you just started is waaaay harder than they made out at the interview - aka 'This isn't what I thought..."
- When your team's workload doubles but your resources have halved - aka 'You'll just have to work smarter, not harder..."
So, now you know the most common self-confidence crushers, let’s take a look at simple ways to overcome them.
How to Rebuild Your Self-Belief When It’s Been Shattered
Some of the best Self-Confidence Restorers include:
- Acceptance – it happened and that’s something you can’t change
- Self-Forgiveness – it’s likely your intentions were good, even if you couldn’t see the consequences of your actions at the time
- Empathy, Compassion and Kindness for self and others – powerful antidotes for judgement and anger
- Ownership – empowers you to take action on what is within your control
Take these into the following 5 steps to regain the belief that you are strong and capable.
STEP 1: Press Pause, Relax, Breathe and Notice
Whilst your logical mind may be tempted to rush straight in with hastily developed solutions or self-fulfilling prophesies (“See, I knew I wasn’t good enough…”), the most important first step is to tap into your sub-conscious mind. Self-Confidence is largely a feeling that you can’t regain with conscious, left brain logic alone.
Find somewhere quiet and comfortable and simply stop. Slow down and calm your noisy inner critic with slow, deep breaths. Consciously relax every muscle you’ve been clenching. Notice, name and acknowledge the feelings. What are they and how are they showing up?
Alternatively, if you’re a runner, go for a run and get into a steady, even rhythm. Breathe evenly and allow the rhythmic sound and feeling of your footsteps hitting the ground to create a flow state where you can think clearly.
Shifting your physiology first will help clear your mind, create perspective and expand the space around the confidence crushing event.
STEP 2: Gather the Facts and Objectively Assess
As if you are an investigative reporter or a detective, the next step is to calmly gather ALL the evidence. Start by writing down what you believe happened and then asking others what they observed.
Gather alternative perspectives without judgement. The key to this step is having a curious and open mind, where no perspective is right or wrong. They are all simply different.
Act as if you are a witness, rather than a victim as you assess and analyse what really happened. Objectivity will help you clarify the facts without being weighed down by unhelpful emotions.
Remember, self-confidence isn’t an ‘all or nothing’ feeling.
Identify the areas where you still feel confident and isolate the one or two areas that have taken a hit. This helps you realise that rather than losing all self-belief, you’ve only lost some confidence in specific abilities related to that one situation.
STEP 3: Identify the Lessons and Let Go of the Emotion
Confidence crushing experiences may take time to recover from. It can be helpful to sit with the discomfort, pain or embarrassment for a while but not for too long. A highly effective recovery technique is to consciously identify every insight or lesson you can gain from the event.
Mentally float 40,000 feet up above the situation, looking down on it like it’s a tiny speck below. Able to see for miles around everything you couldn’t see when you were ‘in’ the situation, ask yourself,
- What can I now see and learn from this that will help me move forward, wiser for the experience?
- What else?
- What didn’t I see or acknowledge that if I had, would have kept my self-belief intact, no matter how it played out?
It’s only once we have gained the lessons from a painful past experience, that we can let go of unhelpful (albeit well-intentioned), emotions. Self-righteousness, criticism, anger and self-pity may keep us ‘safe’ for a while but they also diminish our ability to pick ourselves up and move on.
- What do I need to give up or let go of to move forward?
- What would that take?
STEP 4: Decide What Matters MOST
With all the evidence and perspectives gathered, lessons learnt and unhelpful emotions released, you’re now in the present, at a cross roads.
The past has happened and can’t be undone. The future is yet to happen and can be shaped. At this point, you get to choose how you will respond and decide what happens next.
- What are all the possible outcomes?
- How do you want this to play out?
- What would that result in?
- When all is said and done, what matters MOST and why is that so important to you?
STEP 5: Focus on the Future and Move Forward
It’s not the events in our lives that shape us. Rather, it’s the way we respond to them.
As a leader, your reputation will be much more heavily influenced by the way you move forward. Leaders who overcome significant obstacles, are remembered most for the way they show up.
Decide how you want to 'BE' and do just that every day. If you choose to BE confident, look for ways to consciously strengthen your self-belief in small ways. What you focus on is what you get and the more you often you practice BE-ing confident, the stronger it will become.
Through several intensive coaching sessions, Christine was able to take all of the above steps. Stepping back and reflecting on what had happened, she was able to see the situation more clearly.
She moved on from repeatedly berating herself to identifying what, in hindsight, she could have done to prevent it. Christine recognised that in giving her team so much autonomy, she’d overlooked the need to put checks and balances in place.
Returning to work, she gathered her team and spoke honestly about her experience and what she’d learnt. Together, they identified all the weaknesses in their processes that had enabled the rogue team member to act unethically. From there they quickly made their processes water tight, pressure tested and had them independently audited.
Being transparent, taking ownership and quick, pro-active action helped Christine regain the respect of her colleagues and CEO. Collective problem solving strengthened her team’s loyalty to her and each other.
In a follow up conversation, I asked Christine the biggest lesson she’d gained from the experience. She said, “It was the moment I realised that the only way out of this was to believe in myself. If I didn’t back me, why should anyone else?”
So, the next time you have a ‘crisis of confidence’, make rebuilding it your #1 priority. The rest will follow much more easily.
1. Self-Confidence is not an 'all or nothing' feeling - remember what you DO feel confident in
2. You CAN use Self-Confidence to turn negative events into opportunities
3. If you don't believe in you, why should anyone else?
And remember, you don’t have to do it alone.
If you need help to regain your confidence, let’s connect and see how I may be able to help you.