skip to Main Content

10 Ways to Conquer Self-Doubt and Become a Better Leader

It’s easy to assume that successful, confident people never have any doubts…..that they are decisive about every choice, never have regrets and always know what to do.

But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Rare is the leader who hasn’t experienced self-doubt.

According to a recent study conducted by The Alternative Board, which surveyed hundreds of leaders across the world, “positivity” is the most important trait a leader can have, with 47 percent of participants citing that quality [Yes, positivity even beat out passion (17 percent), the ability to be personable (16 percent), and decisiveness (13 percent)]. Being positive starts from within and when the solitude of self-doubt erodes it, your leadership and morale of your team suffers. You must never let anyone see you don’t have 100% faith in getting the team through the journey. They will never follow you otherwise.

The fact is, everyone, even the most sanguine leaders who are confident in their industry/product/company expertise, problem-solving abilities and interpersonal skills, second-guess themselves and are haunted by indecision and at some point. Self-doubt can be especially paralysing for leaders who buy into the cultural myth of the perfect leader. Knowing full well that perfection is unattainable, they nonetheless feel compelled to project the image of a calm, confident leader who always knows what to do and how to do it.

This was certainly true for me. I have experienced self-doubt, especially when thrust out of my comfort zone and into a new unfamiliar role or situation, or facing a sudden business crisis threatening to spiral out of control. And that’s a very frustrating thing when you’re trying to lead, when you have self-doubts and your team is looking to you. I felt isolated and overwhelmed. I had to find ways to boost my confidence and to trust in my judgment.

Here is how I defeated the doubt and directed my energy toward more productive ways of thinking and became a better leader. I am living proof that the following strategies will work for you:

  1. Stop worrying about what others think. I used to spend a lot of time and energy trying to manage other people’s perception of me to the point that I would get stuck in an inadequacy loop. There was always someone who seemed to be doing better, getting further or having more than I had. Once I stopped benchmarking myself against others and their accomplishments and possessions, I found that I was able to focus on my strengths and improve my skills.
  2. Set immediate and reachable goals. In addition to the adopting ambitious, long-term goals myself and the business, I established attainable short-term ones too. It’s easy to let doubt creep in when our big goals aren’t immediately realised. By achieving smaller goals along the way, I found I constantly basked in frequent wins and confidence began to rise.
  3. Remember prior successes. Whenever uncertainty hits, instead of dwelling on negatives, I reflect on what went right and any recent achievements….and it’s ok to give yourself full credit for the triumphs!
  4. Surround yourself with the right people. I keep people such as my mentor/coach, those I respect and admire and who encouraged me close to me and seek their feedback on a regular basis. I distance myself from individuals who are pessimistic towards me, the business and future prospects.
  5. Selective thinking. Our brain can only focus on one thought at a time, so choose to think about something positive and the negative stuff won’t stand a chance. I take time each day to reflect on the day’s accomplishments, either before I leave for the day or on the way home….even small ones and actively choose to view the world around me in a positive way. I also acknowledge the situations that didn’t turn out the way I wanted and recognise that things happen that are outside of my control, irrespective of my involvement and best endeavours.
  6. Distract yourself. When I do get caught up in negative thoughts, I move to break the cycle immediately by taking a walk or a run, keeping super busy or moving on to another project. You’ll need to experiment and find the technique that works best for you to quell pessimism before it consumes you.
  7. Learn from mistakes and forgive yourself. Forgiving yourself is often harder than forgiving others! Despite my best efforts and intentions, mistakes did happen at times and I learnt quickly that it doesn’t make sense to dwell on them. Instead, I treat each blunder as a learning and give myself permission to move on.
  8. Be decisive but don’t fear a change of mind. Whenever I make decisions, I never over expend energy dithering. In most cases, your first gut feeling is the right choice, so I make a decision and move on. But I’m never afraid to change course if, down the line, I realise it wasn’t the right choice after all. That might seem like a contradiction, but it is not. The key is to be flexible in your views as you acquire more information and gain new knowledge.
  9. Face your fears. When I am faced with fear I ask myself “what is the worst thing that can happen” and then I think about the upside….the risk-reward ratio. The upside allows me to face the things that scare me head-on. I learnt from my rugby days to picture myself handling the very thing I felt most doubtful about and I envisage what success looks like. This makes me more inclined to begin engaging in the situation because I trick my brain to see that the behaviour will lead to success.
  10. Get a business coach. I have been fortunate to have a great business coach to guide me at different stages of my career. He helped me uncover new possibilities and achieve my goals with greater focus, greater energy and greater impact! He really listened to me, understood me, and helped place my feet back on the ground, He helped me identify and challenge my unhealthy beliefs without passing judgment. It gets lonely at the top and a business coach is a great sounding board who will help you make decisions with confidence.

These are strategies that worked for me and working for the leaders I am working with. So I know they will work for you. Give them a go and become a better leader.

Self-doubt happens to everyone. Business leaders who accept this fact of life and move to overcome it are the most successful in the long run. People who are afraid to fail never move forward or grow, personally and professionally. The more you push yourself, the more you’ll realise what you are capable of.

Back To Top