Why you need to stop aiming for ‘confidence’ . . and what you should strive for instead.

Why you need to stop aiming for ‘confidence’ . . and what you should strive for instead.

In my decades of coaching executives in many countries I often encounter the request for a conversation around confidence. For example; the CEO has to do a road-show and present umpteen times to rev up the troupes. He says to me, in the coaching ‘cone-of-silence’: ‘I just want to be confident. But I am not. I am nervous. Can you help me?’

I coach with a don’t know mind (when I’m doing it properly). I assist my clients to step out on the most important learning journey they can, on that day. The following is what my clients have taught me about confidence. Dozens of them, over more than ten years in many different countries.

There is a problem in chasing confidence that absolutely, positively ensures we can never achieve it. Ever. The problem is this: confidence is an observation of others it is not a feeling, mood or personal position we ‘do’ ourselves. When we use it to describe ourselves we are actually jumping behind the eyeballs of others and looking back at ourselves saying ‘Oh yes, I looked really confident that day’.

When I ask my clients to tell me about a time when they were ‘confident’ they sit and think for a minute. After some reflection their faces light up and they say ‘Yes! I remember! I did this great talk. . .’. they tell me all about it. I ask questions to support them to really revisit that time. What were you wearing? What time of day was it? Was it hot or cold? What was the lighting like in the space? Then, when they are firmly positioned behind their own eyeballs, I ask: what was your intention? How were you feeling? What was important to you in this moment? All the answers over the years have boiled down to these two things – generosity and learning.

When we appear confident to others we are not ‘doing confidence’ we are enacting generosity and learning. The generosity presents as seeking to genuinely support others in one way or another. ‘I really wanted to support them to understand this or that’. The learning presents as raw curiosity, openness to what might happen, novelty seeking and the courage to see, hear and weight emergent data even if it is not pleasant. Often clients report that they were ‘confident’ when the situation offered them a precious opportunity to get inside the heads of important stakeholders.

Emotional intelligence research tells us we can deliberately generate the emotions that will serve us in a given situation. The problem with trying to generate ‘confidence’ is that it requires us to jump behind the eyeballs of others and this mimics the self-referencing thinking we do when we are most nervous and unsure. The pursuit of ‘confidence’ is fundamentally anxiety producing!

Stop aiming for confidence now. Start asking yourself how does this situation present me with the opportunity to be generous? Who do I sincerely want to serve right now? Ask yourself: what could I learn if I truly showed up in this situation?

My best wishes to you!

More performance pointers and happiness hacks for corporate athletes coming soon.

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