Destructive Self Doubt… & What To Do About It

Destructive Self Doubt

There is no greater enemy to our progress than our own self-doubts. 

Not long ago, I coached a leader facing some pretty tricky dynamics in their organisation. We were discussing the plan and strategising possible options.

Throughout the conversation, the leader continued to use a phrase that always makes my hair stand up:

“I’m not very good at that leadership stuff”.

You could see the self-doubt dripping off the statement. It felt a bit like this buffalo (pensive and slow-moving):

Signs you’ve got a self-doubt dilemma 

We need a healthy sense of ego… there are already enough bulls running around in the china shop… but we also can’t have unwarranted self-doubt riddling our minds and destroying progress.

Your team will detect it, your boss will loathe it and your career will feel the results of it.

Some symptoms that you have self-doubt that could be hindering your growth (and narrative) are:

  1. Dealing in negative absolutes – when was the last time you heard yourself say “I’ve never been good at X” or “I’ll never be able to X”? Why is that? Has it been built on a lack of effort, a failure to really try or is it a false narrative built on one past failure?
  2. Retreating from pain – so often I find that leaders hide from the pain. “I’m not good at difficult conversations”, which means they avoid having them. Then when they do have them they are so escalated and terrible that it just affirms their suspicions.  This then leads to them avoiding more of the painful thing they aren’t good at.
  3. Failing to fact check – how do you objectively know you’re bad at the thing you’re bad at? Has someone told you? Did you see it somewhere? Is it a fear that’s never actually been tested?
  4. Banking on confirmation bias – like the one above,  are you seeking only facts that confirm your negative beliefs? For example, do you believe you’re terrible at public speaking only to give a presentation and have one person say something negative (out of the 10 that attended)? You then carry around that one person’s negative feedback as an affirmation of your suspicions.

Let’s kick your destructive self-doubt in the face.

I’m not going to do the “rah-rah let’s go get hyped” hustle non-sense. Instead, our focus is on breaking the doubts that should exist and making a plan to fix the ones that you need to.

How do you start to tackle your leadership self-doubt?

  • Chat with a trusted advisor/friend/mentor/coach — one of the best ways to break through a wall you’ve built for yourself is to test it with someone you know and trust. If they know you well, they will immediately help you work through it. 
  • Test your assumptions — if you think you’re bad at X, give it a go and see what really happens. That leader I was working with said they were bad at emotional intelligence. After working through it, turns out they are VERY good at emotional intelligence. More on that later…
  • Get out of the echo-chamber — the problem with our social circles and reinforcers (like Facebook) is that they create echo-chambers where you hear what you want to hear because the system propagates it. Go outside your normal channels to find alternative narratives.
  • Make a plan for the things that are warranted— if you do find that your self-doubt is warranted, then make a plan to focus on building better skills in that area.  Terrible at public speaking? Join Toastmasters. Bad at EQ? Get a coach!

Bonus: Do unto others and be the bad@ss

Aside from tackling your own self-doubt, helping others through their challenges is a great way to lift everyone. That leader I was coaching? The act of showing them the facts and telling them they actually are good, lit up their face. They’d never heard that from their boss and never had a chance to test their self-doubt even though the evidence was clear.

What a great outcome.

Now, tackle that self doubt and be just like this bad@ss buffalo (pictured above).

Want to binge on more blog bad@ssery?

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