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If you do not adapt, if you do not learn, you will wither, you will die.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Applauding those who doubt themselves

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.

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