The 5 Positive Powers of Self-Doubt
If you grapple with self-doubt, keep reading. If you don’t grapple with it, you’re dangerous.
Experts sing, “Believe in yourself,” However, unquestioned self-belief produces self-serving leaders who won’t adapt.
Tom Petty captures the experience of many in, “Saving Grace,” when he sings, “You’re confident but not really sure.”
Confident but not sure is better than blind belief.
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.”
Move forward in spite of doubt.
Worry if you’re not worried.
Believe in yourself enough to bring self-doubt with you into 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.
Fear of making mistakes is healthy when it raises intensity, motivates preparation, and inspires vigilance. It’s unhealthy when it paralyzes you.
Press into doubt with deadlines.
An effective deadline is a mini-crisis.
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.
Focus more on the process – what’s next – and less on final outcomes.
The 5 positive powers of healthy self-doubt:
- Motivates preparation. Useful self-doubt doesn’t paralyze it motivates.
- Humbles the heart.
- Opens the mind.
- Invites others in.
- Builds confidence in others. You’re trustworthy if challenges give you pause.
Why are those who sing the song of self-belief so popular? Because everyone has self-doubt. Don’t lose it, use it.
How can leaders use self-doubt as a tool rather than an obstacle to their leadership?
When has self-doubt gone too far?
Self doubt goes too far when that it the center if your focus, your lack. Self- doubt must be couched in reality of what’s going on around you, and not in either false humility nor failure to move forward.
Self-doubt gives all those positive aspects that you outlined, but we cannot let it paralyze us.
We should always surround ourselves with truth-tellers, but the most importantly we need to be truthful and honest with ourselves. We must know out talents as well as our limitations..
The purpose of teams is that everyone should rise to their best game and potential. If we actually knew everything, we wouldn’t need a team.self-doubt opens up that space to allow other to soar and be their best.
Great post as always, Dan.
Powerful contribution Martina.
When we focus on our lack self-doubt wins. Thanks for that great thought. Takes me back to strength-based leadership and the power of optimism.
There’s a difference between realistic optimism and blind self-belief.
Thanks for your insights and contributions.
I have always felt my self doubt to be a postivie attribute, but worried that’s it not (see, self doubt in practise!!!). Your blog has articulated well the conversation I have had with myself in assessing it’s value. Thank you in supporting the development of my confidence in my relatively new journey of becoming a leader.
Thanks for your comment and best wishes for your journey.
I am one of those people who has never had a problem with lack of self doubt! For me, “believe in yourself”, refers to the possibility within and the ability to overcome challenges or obstacles, with the help of others. Being able to say “I’m not sure. What do you think?” or “Can you help?” provides powerful opportunities to build relationships and as you said, create trust. The key is to then turn around and be the support for others in their moments of self doubt.
Thanks Laurie, I really enjoyed your lest sentence. That’s the leaders perspective on life…how do we give back… cheers.
To your question of using self-doubt as a tool. Often times, that little voice of self-doubt is the reminder to seek wise counsel. Seek input. That’s when I discover if the self-doubt is self induced because I’m focused on past failures and not the lessons learned from those experiences. Or, if my self-doubt is a God-inspired whisper.
Thanks for your insight…love the idea that self-doubt is a reminder to seek counsel. Best!
The self-doubt(s) are nature’s way to remind you that it’s not just about you.
Those niggling little voices that say ‘what if’ or ‘what about’ or ‘you bonehead, did you even consider’ or even the distractable ‘hey, squirrel’ all have a purpose to jar you as you shift your focus from the event horizon to the here and now… that there are also elements in between that need attention too.
Sans self-doubt, that emperor certainly has some fine new duds.
“How can leaders use self-doubt as a tool rather than an obstacle to their leadership?”
Just as you said, by using it as motivation to plan rather than a reason to panic. 🙂 Instead of hiding from the secretary under the desk, you figure out (realistically) what she can help you with.
“When has self-doubt gone too far?”
My last boss let self-doubt and stress get way too far, and started drinking more and more. It eventually cost him his position. (He had tried to get help for it, but the company policy of having an open bar at its yearly gatherings proved to be too much of a temptation..)
Also, in my own case, it’s gone too far when one allows it to keep one in a terrible job out of fear of change or doubt of one’s ability. It literally took me getting fired for me to really start working on what I wanted to do.
Reblogged this on The Written Nerd and commented:
This is a reblog by one of my favorite bloggers on WordPress. Even though it’s directed towards folks in leadership positions, I’ve often found the advice he gives out to be hella useful for pretty much everyone and generally every kind of situation.
Self-doubt opens your ears to listen to others!!!
I find that a little self doubt often leads me to look at, and in fact see things, from other perspectives and ask a few more questions. A change in course is not always the outcome, but a better view of it, and the best approach, may be had. Bravo Dan, great post…..
I would characterize the ideal to strive for as self-knowledge rather than self-doubt.
Positive power for self doubts are very significant. Self doubt is good when it propels motivation, effort and learning. But when it is opposite or inhibits motivation, effort and learning than it is dangerous. I think self doubt instils fear, the positive fear to do more. And confidence discourage you to question your belief. So, when I am driven by fear, I excel but whenever I have been driven by confidence, generally it has led to failure and frustration. So, I agree that self doubt is better than blind belief. Leaders can use self doubt as a tool by questioning others thought process and also adding new dimensions. It means leaders can use self doubt by supporting and opening more options.
But there is dark side of self doubt. When self doubt becomes habit and always reflect in behavior, it yields unsatisfactory result. So, leaders should make a balance between self doubt, encouragement and appreciation. They should ensure where they should insert such concept to produce good outcome. For example, if one doubt the ability of fearful or doubtful person, what happen to his level of motivation? Whether it will increase or decrease?
I can be a self doubter, which leads to the thought of “What else can I do”, which I frequently have. Or “What else is there to do”. Which, I think, ultimately leads to never being satisfied.
WOW! Dan, THANK YOU a million times over! I needed today’s blog considering I have considered my self-doubt to be my #1 weakness regarding leadership. I realize it keeps me humble and level-headed but didn’t realize the motivation benefit. I never thought to approach it with such diversity. Thanks for this guidance, instruction and encouragement. After reading this, I feel truly armed, equipped and better positioned for leadership!
You make many excellent – and much needed – points in this blog. While confidence, and a proactive, can-do attitude are critical to success for both leaders and entrepreneurs, the current culture of self-affirmation has real weaknesses.
Confidence – untempered by reasonable self-doubt – can too easily lead to arrogance, and a refusal to recognize the scope of risk. I think we’ve seen this in some of the decisions that led to recession. Charging forward is a great strategy – but not if you’re charging uphill against entrenched machine guns.
Too much self doubt, of course, is paralyzing. I particularly like your point on giving reasonable time to explore options and then pulling the trigger. That deadline puts an end to self doubt, and demands action.
And anyone who can quote both Rollo May and Raymond Chandler in one blog is someone I have to respect! 🙂
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