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Why Confidence for Leaders is Bogus and Kills Sparks of Team-Genius


Where is your confidence level? 

If you’re like 100% of the people around you, it fluctuates. And it probably fluctuates by the microsecond. High when you (sometimes) want it to be. Low during times of stress or uncertainty. But often, it’s something we internalize and fuss over in our minds – because as we’re told, “the key to getting ahead is as simple as raising your confidence!”

cape kid

Sounds great! What’s next?!

Feast your self-doubting, conviction crushing, weaker than ever minds on the following article titles from – “23 Ways to Increase Your Self-Confidence, Productivity and Income”, “The Two-Step Process on How to Cure Fear And Win with Scorching Confidence”, and “How to Replace Your Self-Doubt with Unshakeable Confidence”.

Okay — “Confidence” comes from the Latin fidere, “to trust.” To be self-confident is to trust in oneself, and, in particular, in one’s ability or aptitude to engage as one intends with the world. Even Psychology Today gets it wrong when they say “A self-confident person is ready to rise to new challenges, seize opportunities, deal with difficult situations, and take responsibility if and when things go awry.” Um, negative, ghost rider.

Self-Confidence does not dictate whether you can rise to new challenges or deal with difficult situations. Confidence is in the trust of oneself. Unfortunately, I can be supremely confident and trust that I will fail at something.

What we actually need to be discussing is self-efficacy. Self-Efficacy is used to refer to the belief that one has the power to produce an effect by completing a given task or activity related to a competency. It is the optimistic self-belief in our competence or chances of successfully accomplishing a task and producing a favorable outcome. A self-efficacy belief, therefore, includes both an affirmation of a capability level and the strength of that belief. Seems like I may be parsing words here. But, confidence is a catchword rather than a construct.

Your beliefs become your thoughts. Your thoughts become your words. Your words become your actions. Your actions become your habits. Your habits become your values. Your values become your destiny — Gandhi


Okay, so how can a leader’s self-efficacy kill sparks of team-genius?

Deep knowledge, ingrained experience, and perceived expertise can be difficult nuts to crack. As I say, “there is great pride in authorship”. People want to be validated as valuable to society; we want to be the person who acts as the solution to any problem.

In my time in the Navy, I have dealt with many senior leaders who were unwilling to listen to my ideas, thoughts, or feedback because I was less experienced and did not have as much expertise in the field of naval warfare or leadership. My naivety and comparative experience level was sometimes far too steep to get a word into the conversation.

Sound familiar?

bad leadership

Allow me to turn to NY Times best-selling author and executive advisor Liz Wiseman who works with executives on fixing this issue “When I coach executives, and when I am coaching something that is new for someone, I’m coaching for learning…I’m doing my job as a coach when I help them discover something, even something they already know…”

Listen to Liz Wiseman dazzle on Episode 79 on LSG! Why confidence can destroy our ability to lead!

She continues, “But when I’m coaching people with years of experience, with ingrained assumptions and deep expertise and deep knowledge I’m coaching for unlearning which is far more difficult. I’m helping [leaders] question the things they already know…they have to be willing to let go of greatness and relearn it. People are unwilling to be clumsy and go back with no need for polish, poise or dignity. Really, [leaders] are unwilling to be awkward.”

And this unwillingness to unwind expertise, knowledge and experience is what hinders growth inside teams thirsting for it.

How can leaders invoke a sense of innovation from their teams?

So what does Liz advocate for leaders when looking to spur growth inside themselves and their teams – “Have high self-confidence and low situational-confidence.”

Allow me to layer that concept with what my aforementioned slicing and dicing of the word “confidence”: Leaders must have high self-efficacy and low situational-efficacy. In other words, you must believe in your competency-level always, and be willing (even excited) to concede that you are not competent for every individual situation.

The balancing act for leaders is a difficult one. But, this is exactly what can make an ordinary team produce elite results. Leaders who can leverage and encourage the innovative ideas from others help spark the genius inside us all.

elon musk

Great leaders prop up their people. They understand that the next generation of their product will not come from the previous generation. Regenerative organizations are spearheaded by leaders who want to have none of the answers.

Open-minded leaders have the mental framework to know that their success lies in the genius of the people around them. Close-minded leaders close minds because they already know it all.

About the author, Tim

US Navy Surface Warfare Officer.
Lacrosse Player.

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