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Solution Saturday: How to Coach to Build Confidence


One reader asks, “How can I help those I coach have confidence? 

First step:

The first step toward bright is often into the dark.

Do they see their lack of confidence as an issue? Perhaps they enjoy the advantages of self-doubt. Maybe you’re the one who sees a problem, but they see lack of confidence as useful. After all, lack of confidence is a sure way to avoid the pain of reaching high and falling short.

It’s frustrating to push someone toward an objective they don’t embrace.

Problem identification:

Ask questions and explore issues. You might ask:

  1. What’s holding you back?
  2. What attitudes or behaviors do you have that don’t serve you well?
  3. What attitudes or behaviors will help you create the life/leadership you aspire to develop? (Assuming they have aspirations.)

Explore answers to the above questions. Choose an issue that seems most relevant in the moment. But what if they don’t mention lack of confidence?

Provide feedback:

Explain that you notice lack of confidence is holding them back. Provide examples. Find agreement on the issue. But don’t force agreement.

You can’t develop new attitudes and behaviors until they see their value. If you agree on an issue for development, move forward.

Go for yes:

Don’t eliminate self-doubt – say yes to self-confidence.

The best way to eliminate self-defeating attitudes is to replace them with small positive behaviors.

The more you focus on something, the bigger it gets. Focusing on self-doubt, even if it’s to eliminate it, is a negative focus.


  1. What might you do today that would fill you with confidence?
  2. What were we doing in the past when you felt confident? What does that suggest for today?
  3. If you had a little more self-confidence, what would you do today? Go do that.

Listen for negatives:

Coaching conversations often produce negative responses at first. When you ask, “What do you want?”, people inevitably tell you what they don’t want. Don’t solve someone’s “don’t wants”. Press through.

I hear what you don’t want. What do you want? One of the most powerful coaching moments occurs when people find clarity and courage to embrace the pursuit of something they want.

Yes, there is an element of stopping when it comes to achieving success. Sometimes all we need to do is continue useful behaviors and end behaviors that don’t serve us well. I’m not addressing that here.

Stretch in small ways:

Talking is helpful. Taking action changes us.

There is a dynamic interaction between doing and being. Behaviors reflect who we are and we become what we do. The coach’s job is to get clients trying new behaviors.

Awkward new behaviors:

New behaviors feel awkward. Remember when you learned to ride a bike or spoke in public for the first time. You help others overcome the awkwardness of new behaviors in three ways.

#1. Identify appealing outcomes. Work toward something that has more value than the value of playing it safe. For example, what does improving your public speaking get for you? How is the thing you want more compelling than the thing you fear?

#2. Provide a safety net when self-doubters stretch themselves. Explore what needs to be in place for them to feel safe taking on new challenges. Don’t worry. Once they get going, most people don’t need safety nets. They just need to know one is there.

#3. Don’t rush in to help. Let people struggle, fail, and try again. Instead of helping, ask,

  1. What are you learning about yourself?
  2. What new skills are you developing?
  3. What will you try next time?
  4. What was the failure point? What might you do at that point next time?

Rushing in to save the day only proves that you believe they lack competence. Stay available. Be helpful. But don’t create dependence.

Other considerations:

In praise of self-doubt:

Ask, “What are the advantages of self-doubt?”

Small doses of self-doubt inspire preparation, alertness, openness, and effort.

“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.” Robert Sutton in Good Boss Bad Boss.

In praise of ignorance:

If you knew the difficulties on the path ahead, you’d reach lower, if you reached at all. Mark Twain said, “All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.”

Don’t talk about all the problems and challenges that might come up. Just get started. This is foolish advice when projects are highly visible and stakes are high. But in many situations, it’s better to build the plane in the air than to plan yourself into perfect safety and stagnation.

In praise of butt kicks:

If you know someone well and you see them making safe decisions, give them an honest kick in the pants. Tell them they are playing it safe. Ask them how they might reach higher.

How might you coach toward confidence?

Added resources:

10 Strategies to Build Confidence in Others

The 5 Positive Powers of Self-Doubt

*I suspend my 300 word limit on Solution Saturday.

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