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Courage, Then Confidence
Embracing action in the face of self doubt
Diving into a new project or embracing a fresh role inevitably stirs up intense pressure.
What’s intriguing is a tendency I've observed among the leaders I coach; they often impose greater pressure on themselves than anyone else does.
These leaders are accustomed to achieving a lot. But the more success they have, the more they expect.
And as a byproduct, it means that they’re always trying to prove themselves and are never feel quite as successful as they think they should be.
Strikingly, it’s these very leaders who quietly share their struggles with inner confidence.
The scenario is far from uncommon. Numerous reports consistently highlight that imposter syndrome predominantly affects high achievers, particularly when they are operating in unfamiliar territories outside their comfort zones.
But the thing with confidence is that it is built on your past actions, accomplishments, and successes. It is, in one sense, retrospective.
And when you step out of your comfort zone, you are intentionally stepping forward into a space where you are unaccomplished and where it is uncomfortable. Feeling unsure of yourself and like an imposter is a by-product of operating outside of your comfort zone. The two go hand in hand.
It means that if you’re an ambitious leader constantly pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, that feeling will always be there.
But what often gets confused with confidence, is courage.
Though many of you may not immediately perceive yourself as courageous, the fact that you’ve successfully attained and are navigating a demanding leadership role underscores that you do, in fact, have courage.
Courage is taking the plunge and giving something a go, despite being afraid or uncertain. It's the trait that enables you to face ambiguity, make tough choices, and embrace change.
Courage acknowledges fear and uncertainty, but it doesn't let those emotions dictate your choices.
Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear - not absence of fear.
In contrast, confidence is your retrospective assessment of the outcome.
It comes from believing in your own abilities. And because it is ‘seeing’ that most often leads to believing, it means that you need to do the action first before you can self assess your ability to do it and thus your level of confidence.
The challenge surfaces if you tend to possess slightly skeptical and self-critical tendencies. When your self assessment falls short of your expectation, it dents your self confidence in the process - and a detrimental loop forms.
But whilst confidence is focussed on retrospective self evaluation, it is courage that will empower you to confront uncertainty head on, and keep going.
And recognising the distinction is essential to break free from the cycle of self-doubt - irrespective of lingering confidence.
It can for many, undoubtedly, be easy to get caught in the trap of searching for more confidence. Waiting for a surge of confidence before taking that next step. But if you spend time waiting for confidence to come before you take action, it may never materialise.
So instead, I encourage you to change the conversation; let’s focus on courage over confidence.
Here are four tools to help give you a kickstart.
Reflect: Courage is the force that drive you beyond your comfort zone and into uncharted territories. Courage thrives in the uncomfortable. It pushes leaders to tackle challenges head-on, regardless of the fear associated.
Can you recall a moment when you demonstrated courage when you didn’t have confidence?
What is one challenging decision you've been avoiding?
How could tackling it with courage head-on benefit your team and business?
Learn: Being a courageous leader means being a leader who is able to learn from failure, to admit vulnerabilities, seek diverse perspectives that challenge your perceptions and what you thought was right.
How have past failures or setbacks affected your courage and confidence as a leader?
What can you learn from those experiences to further enhance your leadership approach?
How might seeking out new challenges contribute to your development?
Read: This piece for HBR shares three strategies to help you build courage. Whilst repeated studies show that self doubt impacts more women than men, in my personal experience as a coach, self confidence most definitely isn’t limited do women. So, whatever your gender, it is worth a read:
Know another leader who needs to read this? This post is free, so feel free to share it with them.
Balance it: While courage and confidence are different, they are not mutually exclusive - courage paves the way for the development of confidence. But you don’t need to do THE most courageous thing right now. Small, micro acts of courage, will build your muscle over time you practice it.
What does micro-courage mean to you?
What one small courageous act, outside your zone of comfort, could you do today?
In what ways might leaning into courage during times when you’re low in confidence help you overcome challenges?
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