Leadership

Is our quest for confidence dumbing down our potential?

Pollyanna Lenkic /

To be confident is an enduring trend that we have been seduced by. We compare it (confidence) in ourselves and others, we seek out wisdom from others who appear to be overflowing with confidence and try to emulate them while colluding with those also seeking to improve theirs.

The problem with this strategy is it involves gathering evidence from the high moments of other people’s lives, usually from social media posts, which we compare to the lowest moments of our lives. Our processes are as flawed as we are. Why? Because we are human. There can be a need to create a real condition, a ‘confidence Munchausen’, to add evidence that our thinking is sound. It’s a distraction.

In the same way, the search for the vessel of the Holy Grail became a legendary quest for King Arthur and his knights, the search for confidence is the ‘holy grail’ quest of our times.  

The legend of King Arthur and his quest endures in our world. Scholars debate if he was a real king or a myth, whether the time he was said to rule is accurate or not. Regardless of the controversy of fact or myth, it captures our desire for adventure, overcoming adversity and need for connection. We love a good quest to absorb ourselves in.

Unless we shift our mindset and focus away from confidence and towards courage, learning and building our skills and capabilities, we could be heading down a path of quest ‘Groundhog Day’. A quest that will give us many stories to tell of battles fought and won. However, the confidence quest will forever derail us from focusing on what will help us rise and grow so we can realise the full potential that is in each of us, creating a ripple effect to the potential within others.

It’s time to untangle

Somehow we have tangled up the fear of making mistakes, becoming stuck with unhelpful emotions and behaviours with the ‘fake it ’til you make it’ mantra, resulting in worshipping the false gods of bravado.

We talk a lot about having the courage to ask questions, to allow failure, and yet we seem hardwired still to being an observer in this with varying degrees of tolerance, compassion and kindness. This is leaching into our culture with negative impacts. Our time-worn strategy of stand tall and ‘fake it ’til we make it’ is failing to deliver. It can send us down a less constructive path obstructing the real issues and way forward.

American talk show host Jimmy Kimmel captures elements of this in his show Lie Witness News. Kimmel picks unsuspecting people to ask fabricated questions about fictitious people or events.  One of his recent shows has his reporter take to the streets of LA to seek opinions on the Oscars a week before the Oscars happened.

Unsuspecting interviewees talked with ease and apparent knowledge, confidently answering questions and adding details to re-enforce that they were indeed across all aspects of the event sharing how they felt about it.

Watching the episodes dubbed as ‘entertainment or social experiment’ unveils a theme. Very few people admit to not knowing what the interviewer is talking about, and appear very knowledgeable and adding to the story.

On the surface, it’s easy to laugh at this and dismiss as a piece of light-hearted entertainment, but with deeper exploration, we can see how deep the cracks go and the impact of this.

Borrowing the phrase from Al Gore, “the inconvenient truth” is that we all do this in varying degrees and frequency. It’s an autopilot habit, one that has been developed over time. One that may have served us once, got us out of a bind, so we just kept on doing it losing sight of both the short- and long-term cost.

Getting conscious of where this shows up for ourselves (not for others!) in service of retraining our autopilot responses could be a good investment. It’s time to honestly ask: ‘How does this old strategy that has become a daily habit work?’ For us as individuals, as teams and for the organisations we work for?

The antidote

Here are four strategies to help when trapped in the black hole of the ‘confidence quest’.

Surf the wave of true potential

Rewire your quest to a search for courage, honesty and action. Where is the current focus when things are not working out? Who do we blame? What lack do we perceive exists?  

Riding waves can be exhilarating, the bigger they are the higher the rush of adrenalin, and sometimes we wipeout. Waiting for confidence to appear before getting back on our board may be a long wait between waves.

For a road map on how to lead a quest in a constructive way, read How to Lead a Quest by Dr Jason Fox.

2. Give this visualisation a go 

(There are three parts to this exercise. Complete all three as one exercise. It can also be useful to record this, as hearing the visualisation in your own voice can be powerful.)

Think about a situation where you feel: ‘If only I had more confidence I would _____’. Fill in the blank, write it down, then read it out loud.

Now imagine you are standing in front of a mirror, it’s a bland looking mirror, lacking colour and it’s a bit hazy. Play out the scenario that you have just written down in the mirror as if you were watching a documentary about you, believing that you just need more confidence to do this. You are on your own confidence quest.

Now, imagine what your life will be like in three months time, still looking for confidence without having taken action towards what you want. What is your life like one year from now? Two years? Five years from now?

Now, reach out and pick up an imaginary eraser and erase the image in front of you.  Take three deep breaths, turn 180 degrees so you are facing the opposite direction.

In front of you is a beautiful mirror with crystal clear reflections. Connect with the courage that is within you, you know this place, it’s the well that is always there for you to draw on. Think of a situation in your life when you did just this, breathe in the courage that is within you.

Now, look into this mirror, what would your life be like in three months time if you connected with your courage and got into action? What would your life be like one year from now? Two years? Five years from now?

What is the first step, write it down and build on each step. Use this as a foundation to create and implement a plan. Share the plan with others and ask someone to be your accountability buddy to up the success rate.

3. Questions to ask yourself

What am I avoiding? How could I spend my time if I gave up the quest for confidence?

What is the first step towards action that matters? What are three situations that you once thought of as failures that turned out to be a stepping stone to something positive?

4. Connect with gratitude

Connect with what you are grateful for. Think about who you are, the experiences you have had, and what and who you have in your life.

Act as if …

‘Act as if’ is an often-used phrase for goal-setting enthusiasts which can be helpful when we connect with the behaviours, regular routines and actions of someone who has achieved what we want to do.

Identify who they are and, if possible, ask, if this is not possible, do some research. Create a list of daily actions that become habits to get you to where you want to be.

Read Atomic Habits by James Clear for some great insight and strategies. Time poor? Listen to his free podcast.

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Pollyanna Lenkic

Pollyanna is a leading expert in building sustainable, high performing teams. Her leadership programs provide the framework and confidence to help leaders create leaders and a leadership culture.

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