Thursday, February 27, 2014
It is often said that confidence separates average leaders from great leaders. That leaders without confidence lose the trust and respect of the people they lead. Of course we want teachers, surgeons, accountants, drivers, police officers, and leaders who are competent, who know what they’re doing, and who know how to convincingly convey this. I also believe that a crucial element of competence is the ability to doubt yourself – to doubt your assumptions, observations, conclusions, practices, and style.
Self-doubt, when present in moderation, opens doors to unlikely approaches, to fresh perspectives, and to a deeper understanding of people who think and behave differently from how you do. It also decreases the risk of something we people are terribly good at: self-deception. If that isn’t a huge win?
When you look for definitions of doubt, you’ll find the following: to be undecided or skeptical about something, to tend to disbelieve, and to regard as unlikely. As a noun, doubt is defined as a lack of certainty that often leads to irresolution or as a lack of trust and a point about which one is uncertain or skeptical. Lastly, the definition of self-doubt is: A lack of faith or confidence in oneself. That does not sound very attractive, I know.
And still, I wish to applaud those who doubt themselves.
Not because I worry about ego problems of the confident or the thin line between confidence and arrogance (which I do worry about, but that’s a different topic). Not because I have difficulty relating to confident, strong-willed, decisive people. I actually like them a lot. The majority of my friends are confident people with little self-doubt and this is also how many people describe me. I cherish that and at the same time it worries me, because here is what I believe to be the obvious catch:
The more confident you are, the less likely you are to actively seek out different approaches, explanations, and styles. The more confident you are, the greater the chance that you’ll overlook and disregard viable options. Options that might benefit you, the project, your team, or the organization. Options that you may still not choose, but that will help you understand someone else’s point of view better and therefore strengthen relationships, collaboration, and your influence.
There is research claiming that executives who underestimate themselves perform more highly than those who overestimate themselves. I think the ability to self-doubt and second-guess is part of that dynamic. Again, there are professions and situations where decisions have to be taken promptly and decisively and they need to be communicated confidently, especially in times of crisis. But even then, people who aren’t convinced that they know all the answers, look harder for them, they look in different places, they look with much more of an open-mind, and they are more receptive to new and possibly better perspectives.
People who aren’t obsessed with portraying confidence, with knowing it all, and with being the best, gather strong people around them. They don’t feel threatened by people who are smarter and more skilled than they are. And that takes a different kind of confidence, the one I’d like you to feel and display in abundance.
Thursday, February 20, 2014
During a conversation with a new client early this morning, I explained the importance of three ingredients to be present before embarking on a coaching endeavor or any other change intervention. My client was all ears and appreciated this insight into what increases the chances of success for a coaching project. Too many managers and other buyers of coaching and training services take too little time to consider these three ingredients, and sadly, some of them don’t take accountability for their own role in establishing those three foundations. So what are they?
There needs to be sufficient awareness of areas that need improvement. Everyone knows this, right! However, I have conducted too many assessment sessions with coaching clients where the person was not or only minimally aware of what their boss or HR professional had told me they needed to improve. Now, regardless of who is right (if any one person ever is) something has gone wrong in the communication and feedback, and the coaching is off to a delayed or weak start, leaving me to work on the feedback-culture, candor, and accountability within the team or company. Thanks to the founders of gestalt psychology and, later, to Daniel Goleman, self-awareness and self-management have gained the attention that is required for people and teams to be collaborative and adaptable. Great ways to strengthen self-awareness are reflection and introspection combined with relevant, candid, specific, and trust-based feedback.
Awareness alone doesn’t necessarily lead to a person’s motivation to learn and change his way of thinking and acting. For that leap to happen, the person needs to feel a sense of urgency. I am not talking about the boss’s sense of urgency but urgency within the person who is receiving the coaching. People are set in their ways, habits are strong and stubborn (read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg), our brains tend to be lazy and focused on short cuts and preservation, and self-denial is an attractive alternative to facing unpleasant truths, being out of your comfort zone, and having to do the hard stuff. Conclusion: Urgency because of what’s at stake, urgency born out of the (projected) loss and pain if you do nothing, is a crucial part of what motivates you to invest time, effort, and money into learning and showing yourself vulnerable.
Even with awareness and urgency in place, I have encountered enough people in my practice who did not show a willingness (or not initially) to work on whatever they were aware was lacking, even if they new something had to happen now. Rather than look inward and decide to learn and grow, they choose to blame others or circumstances, take the victim role, and complain when things turned sour. I am happy to say that most people I have encountered in my 23 years in the field of human development only needed candor and directness from someone who professionally cared and who was capable of explaining dynamics. This was usually enough to add the remaining ingredient of willingness into the stew of cognitive and behavior change.
So, please remember, if you wish someone (or yourself) to be ready for significant growth and sustainable change, you need buy in and ownership, and for that, awareness, urgency, and willingness are crucial ingredients. If you are managing people, your leadership, your communication, and your caring candor play a lead role in this scenario.