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May 23, 2023

Self-Confidence: You Are What You Think You Are

Kevin Dunne

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"See that big clock down there?" said the security guard, pointing the way down the long service road that ran alongside a huge great building. "Turn right there, take the elevator up to the sixth floor, and you’ll find it."

Sounded easy enough, but it wasn't. After 14 years as a journalist, this was to be my first ever shift at a national newspaper, a job I'd wanted to do for as long as I could remember.

I looked up at the big clock, emblazoned with my new employer's name, and took a deep breath. I stepped into the elevator and pressed "six."

But as it lurched upwards, I couldn't seem to turn off that voice in my head telling me, "You’re not good enough. You'll never match up to these people working here. Just go home and do something else – anything else."

I almost didn't get off when those doors opened. But I did. "This is your chance," I told myself, "You've trained for this, you're good enough, you can do it."

As it turned out, I could, and did, do it for the next 17 years. Yes, it took a while to get to grips with the processes, the IT, the characters, and the culture, but that's the same in any job.

Stepping Out of Your Comfort Zone

I guess it's natural to have a moment of doubt when you take that great leap into the unknown: a feeling new managers know all too well.

"Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."

Industrialist and inventor, Henry Ford

Aside from learning new skills and procedures, managers need to build a successful team and maintain good relationships with their team members, all while in a new position of greater authority. Not to mention making a good impression on the C-suite.

All these new pressures and responsibilities can be daunting, to say the least, and make any new manager lose faith in themselves.

Three Steps to Believe in Yourself

Fundamentally, what you'll need to succeed in all of the above is a combination of self-confidence, self-esteem and self-efficacy. Let's face it, if you don't believe in yourself, your team and the people around you probably won't either.

So, what are these magic ingredients for successfully overcoming the challenges that a new role can throw at us?

  • Self-confidence is trusting your own judgment, capacities and abilities. It's about valuing yourself, regardless of any imperfections, or what others may believe about you.
  • Self-efficacy is gained when we see ourselves mastering skills and achieving goals. It encourages us to believe that if we learn and work hard, we'll succeed. It's the type of confidence that means we take on difficult challenges and keep going in the face of setbacks.
  • Self-esteem is a more general sense that we can cope with what's going on in our lives, and that we have a right to be happy. It also comes, in part, from the feeling that the people around us approve of us. If we experience persistent criticism or rejection from others, our self-esteem can easily suffer – unless we support it in other ways.

And that's worth doing for a myriad of reasons. According to a 2022 study, high self-esteem "helps individuals adapt to and succeed in a variety of life domains, including having more satisfying relationships, performing better at school and work, enjoying improved mental and physical health, and refraining from antisocial behavior."

Thankfully, there are plenty of strategies you can use to boost your self-confidence, -esteem and -efficacy. Ones that will help you to perform to your potential as a manager, new or otherwise.

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Improving Your Self-Esteem

  • Think about yourself positively. The only person who can change your view of yourself is you. Learn how to detect and defeat patterns of self-sabotage. Be your own cheerleader!
  • Take pride in your accomplishments. When you do something well, celebrate it. Don't wait for someone else to tell you how wonderful you are. Tell yourself!
  • Be consistent. It's hard to feel good about yourself when you don't believe in what you're doing. If you find yourself in a difficult situation, do all that you can to make a decision that is consistent with your values.
  • Remember that you aren't perfect. Don't be too hard on yourself, or worry about what others think. We all make mistakes, and that's often OK, as long as we learn from them. Focus on the positives and your inner confidence will shine through!
  • Look after your physical self. Being active can improve self-esteem. Activities that improve your overall health help you feel more in control, and give you a sense of satisfaction that carries through to other areas of your life.

Three Ways to Build Your Confidence

  1. Build confident habits. and break bad ones! Regular exercise and a healthy diet can dramatically improve your physical and mental health. And studies have shown that getting a good night's sleep is linked to increased optimism and self-confidence.  
  2. Review past achievements. Your self-confidence will increase when you're able to say, "I can do this, and here's the evidence." A Personal SWOT Analysis, will identify things you're good at, based on your past achievements. You could also list the 10 things that you're most proud of in an "achievement log." Then use them to make positive affirmations about what you can do.
  3. Set confidence-boosting goals. The more successful you are, the better you'll feel about yourself. Goal Setting is a great technique for targeting, tracking and recognizing success. It helps you to build competence and a feeling of worthiness.

Top Tips for Underconfident Managers

  • Make sure that you understand your main responsibilities and objectives by reviewing, or writing, your job description.
  • Try to find a mentor, and commit to learning the key skills you need to work more effectively.
  • Set goals for your team, and make sure that you communicate them regularly.
  • You can't do everything on your own. Identify tasks that you can delegate to team members.

Looking back, when I stood in that elevator, my biggest barrier was myself. As soon as I got out of my own way, I had a chance. Make sure you give yourself one, too.

Relevant Resources

To learn more about boosting your self-esteem, -efficacy and -confidence, check out our supporting resources:

The Highs and Lows of Self-Esteem
Impostor Syndrome
The Power of Self-Confidence
How Self-Confident Are You?
Confidence Hacks

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