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Confidence and challenge

How often have you worked with clients who say they want to be more confident? How often have you doubted your own ability and wished you were more confident? Much has been written about confidence, most of it implying that low confidence = bad and high levels of confidence = good. Some articles explicitly say that to be a good leader people need to be confident. Its like a broken leg, low confidence is an ailment that needs to be fixed.  But is it that straight forward? I believe that feeling a lack of confidence is a symptom of challenge, of doing something new, of moving out of a comfort zone, and of personal growth. It is something to acknowledge, embrace, and value. 

Confidence can be defined as the feeling or belief that you can have faith in or rely on someone. That someone can be yourself and so is a feeling of self-assurance arising from an appreciation of your own abilities or qualities. I’ve worked with many clients over the years who have said they lacked confidence, also I’ve doubted my own ability more times than I can remember. The author Tony Schwartz said “insecurity plagues consciously or subconsciously every human being I’ve met.” If this is the case, when coaching, how do we work with a client to increase confidence? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Practice and preparation. I know my confidence is correlated to the amount of preparation. So the more I practice for a presentation, the more confident I feel.
  • Encourage your coachee to acknowledge that they don’t need to know everything. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything. Use the knowledge and abilities of others and don’t be threatened by them.
  • Be vulnerable: your coachee should let others know how they feel, seek help, and/or accept offers of help.
  • Look back, review past experience, successes outweigh failures. What does your coachee’s track record tell them about future performance? When previously faced with a similar situation, what did they do that worked?
  • Accept failure is part of the process; what did they learn from previous failures?
  • Let go of the need to prove something to others. Consider an actor on stage seeking the appreciation of an audience, who is always waiting for that one bad review. Encourage your coachee to perform for themselves, not to others.
  • Feedback as validation is very effective in building confidence. Pick people who will speak their truth so feedback is honest.
  • Play to their strengths while managing their weaknesses (but this does not mean play it safe in their comfort zone).
  • Take risks; people often don’t know what they are capable of until they are put to the test. Encourage your coachee to push their boundaries in a small way, and then more and more.
  • Nothing is set in stone, everything can change over time.

OK, this is all good stuff. But I would like to challenge this approach. I have always felt that I had low levels of confidence, I constantly doubt my ability. This is how I’m hard wired. But do I need to fix this, or just acknowledge and accept it? I’m 5 foot 8 inches tall, I’d like to be 6 foot, as this is my mental picture of what society expects a man to be. But I’m not going to get any taller, so I accept that and use what I’ve got. As much as I feel the social pressure to be 6 foot, I also feel the social pressure to be confident; after all the articles tell me that confident = good!

For me low confidence or self-doubt is a driving force and an energy. I put more effort into things, I care and take extra steps to do a good job. If I was comfortably confident this would take away this driving force, and I would not be who I am.

Confidence is also situational. People are not confident all of the time. The level of confidence depends on the context, where they are, who they are with and what they are doing. Self-doubt and lower levels of confidence are signs you have stepped out of your comfort zone and are challenging yourself.

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So when a client says “I’m not very confident” maybe you could challenge them by saying “how does that work for you?” Encourage them to speak their truth, rather than feeling the social pressure presented in the image of a person with high confidence. Challenge yourself and your coachees to use their natural resources as an energy.  As the saying goes “do one thing every day that scares you”. If you are always confident, you’ll always be playing small in your comfort zone, OK you’ll never be scared, but you’ll never grow.

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