In praise of self-doubt

Psychological gurus, business and educational experts all preach the modern mantra, “Believe in yourself.” However, unquestioned adoption of this modern philosophy may produce indulgent, lazy, arrogant leaders who don’t adapt and persistently serve themselves.

My personal experience includes both empowering self-belief and paralyzing self-doubt.

Tom Petty captures the experience of many in, “Saving Grace.” He sings, “You’re confident but not really sure.”

If you grapple with self-doubt, keep reading. If you don’t grapple with it, you’re probably dangerous.

Leaders press through the paralyzing effects of self-doubt.

#1. Self-doubt has its benefits. Robert Sutton in Good Boss Bad Boss says, “The best bosses dance on the edge of overconfidence, but a healthy dose of self-doubt and humility saves them from turning arrogant and pigheaded. Bosses who fail to strike this balance are incompetent, dangerous to follow, and downright demeaning.”

#2. Believe in yourself enough to bring self-doubt with you into your decisions and commitments. “The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it’s not without doubt but in spite of doubt,” Rollo May.

Leaders press into paralyzing self-doubts. Fear of making mistakes is healthy when it raises intensity and alertness. It’s unhealthy when it controls you.

#3. Move through self-doubt with deadlines. Give yourself reasonable time to explore options and then pull the trigger. “When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand,” Raymond Chandler.


The modern mantra, “believe in yourself,” has its place, however it’s no substitute for the positive power of healthy self-doubt that doesn’t paralyze but, motivates, humbles, awakens, and opens mind and heart.


How should leaders deal with self-doubt?


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