Every leader has days when they don’t feel up to snuff. It’s called being human. Nevertheless, when you walk into work, you have to figure out a way to show up and self-lead, even if you don’t feel up to it. It’s not a question of “can you do this?” but rather, “how will you do this?” The how is where you need to focus in times of insecurity.
So that brings us to the South of France, where I enjoyed a portion of my honeymoon. My husband and I stayed in an Airbnb owned by an older couple who didn’t speak a word of English.
I’ve always fancied myself fluent in Spanish, despite the fact that I can barely ask where el baño is. Nevertheless, when people ask me if I speak any other languages I don’t hesitate to say “Spanish.” My husband laughs at this because he can actually get by with the Spanish he knows, which is very little, and it’s worlds more than I know.
As my husband and I and our AirBnb hosts found ourselves in a communication stalemate, I made the mistake of saying, “Too bad you don’t speak Spanish!”
“Ahh! Tu hablas Español!” the AirBnb husband shouted with relief! After that came a barrage of words in Spanish I can’t repeat because 1. I lost track of time and space as I stood frozen in my skin, revealed for the impostora I was, and 2. I can’t speak Spanish.
Now, had I changed my mindset at the moment and not frozen with fear, I might have been able to kick the rusty mental Spanish gears into action and pieced together some Espanol. Instead, panic overcame me and I retreated into myself, or as the Spanish say “retirado a mí mismo.” (thank you, Google).
Your mindset determines your confidence level
Are you someone who feels comfortable stepping outside of your comfort zone or do you shy away from new endeavors? Do you have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?
If you have a fixed mindset about your abilities then your confidence is cultivated by staying within the confines of what you know you do well. In a way, you seal your own fate before even giving yourself a chance.
Ever hear someone say, “I can’t meditate because I can’t relax”? That’s a fixed mindset.
On the flip side, with a growth mindset, failing isn’t a confirmation of your ability or intelligence, it’s simply a sign that you need to develop the skill and practice more.
When you have a growth mindset, life is about developing and trying; when you have a fixed mindset, life is about sticking to what you know you do well in order to avoid failure.
When it comes to showing up and leading during times of low self-confidence, your mindset is going to greatly determine how you navigate those waters. You either stay stuck or you move forward. Our minds dictate our behavior. If we are fixed, we stay fixed. If we adopt a growth mindset, we grow. It’s as simple as that; of course, shifting into a growth mindset is not so simple.
Part of the equation on how to lead when you’re not feeling confident is to redefine confidence. Allow your definition of confidence to include the phrase “I don’t know.” If you cannot admit you don’t know something you will always feel unsure of yourself.
It’s OK to feel unsure of yourself. That’s when you can allow others to express their ideas about how to handle a situation. In fact, stepping aside and listening to ideas from colleagues is a sign of good leadership.
The fact of the matter is that every leader isn’t 100% sure of themselves all the time. Anyone who claims to always know the answer suffers from overconfidence, which can bring a leader to ruin and suffocate a business.
The goal is to cultivate a growth mindset, which will naturally lead to a boost in self-confidence. When you start to see your talents and abilities as on a continuum – things to develop, rather than master or fail at – you will not feel the deep insecurity you once did when you don’t know something or feel under par. You will recognize that you are always in a state of development and each experience or failure is a chance to advance.
There are a few core ingredients involved in building a confident mindset.
Know your weaknesses. For sure, play to your strengths. But you also want to know your weaknesses, otherwise they can become your Achilles heel. If you freeze up when speaking in front of groups, work on it. You don’t have to rise to the level of a politician but you can at least build that muscle. The best way to uncover your weaknesses is to:
- Ask those who know you well – maybe a supervisor or colleague you admire and trust.
- Hire an executive coach.
- Submit yourself to a professional assessment, like a 360-degree evaluation.
- Pay attention to the themes in your personal and professional life that trip you up the most
Don’t compare yourself to others. There’s always someone out there who is further along than you. Remember: you’re not on their path and they’re not on yours. Comparing yourself to others is like thinking the cars on the highway in front of you are beating you, when we’re obviously all going to different destinations.
Watch your mind for negative self-talk. Everyone has a personal narrator spinning tales in their heads. What’s your narrator telling you? If it’s in any way negative, stop that train right then and there. Flip the narrative to one that serves you. While it may feel like we’re not in control of our thoughts, we actually are. It takes a lot of practice, but keep choosing thoughts that boost you up, rather than take you down. Our thoughts will always take the opportunity to run amok if left unchecked, so we need to be vigilant watchdogs with our minds.
Ultimately, no one has all the answers; revealing that you’re not sure of yourself shows that you are humble, a quality of a great leader. Plus, why put certainty on such a high pedestal? Certainty halts progress, whereas curiosity creates innovation.
There’s no joy or wonder in certainty. It’s a conversation stopper, a closed door. To drive the point home, I leave you with a few quotes on the absurdity and ignorance of certainty:
“The one unchangeable certainty is that nothing is unchangeable or certain” – John F Kennedy
“Doubt is an uncomfortable position, but certainty is a ridiculous one” – Voltaire
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” – Benjamin Franklin