The Mathematics of Self-Belief

I am always taken aback by the unprompted readiness of successful leaders to identity others whom they admire and have acted as a source of inpiration. When these venerated have been accessible, (that is, neither dead (Jobs) nor remote (Mandela)), I have conducted a short research interview. Reviewing the data recently, a pattern linking these nominees emerged.

They all have an abundance of self-belief.

Now, of course, I do not discount luck, experience or skill as major contributors to success, but I do believe that the depth of self-belief has a huge influence on shaping the range of our possible futures.

I have seen strong, self-confident people fall short of their potential. They spend their lives isolated from a supporting network so are surrounded by individuals who deconstruct or denigrate their attempts at good works. This results in spasms of extreme behaviour when interacting with others which oscillates wildly between dismissive arrogance and combative engagement.

Likewise I have seen highly-capable, gifted individuals fall short of their potential because self-confidence is absent—despite the tangible, enveloping support of family, friends and peers. This results in withdrawn behaviour, a failure to take initiative, and frustration in colleagues.

I have been interviewing successful leaders and their direct reports in preparation for the launch of the Foundry. In response to the question, “what attribute do you see in others that you most like to have yourself,” the most common response was, “self-belief”. Further digging revealed self-belief is a function of self-confidence and affirmation of those whom you respect.

Mathematically the relationship may look like this.

SB = log (SC)A

Where SB = Self-Belief, SC = Self-Confidence and A = affirmation from those you respect.

Now while the equation may appear playful, the relationship is borne out in empirical observation.

So how do you address any imbalance?

In many ways, lack of affirmation is easier to resolve. If self-confidence is in place, the individual needs to seek an environment in which to flourish. If you’re in this situation, dismiss unsolicited feedback. If it is foisted upon you from a source you don’t respect, rebuff it.

Resolving low self-confidence is a longer journey. It requires the individual to build a record of small successes so that, eventually, tolerated failure is not only accepted but sought. Only then can substantial leaps forward take place.

When working with this group, you can provide the supporting conditions necessary for development, you can’t do it for them. We all have to set realistic standards. We can’t catch ever error (yes, it was deliberate) and we can’t avoid every mistake—nor should we. No one has infinite capacity or capability. As Will Rogers said, “everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.”

Seeking perfection will lead to failure attended by pain and frustration along the way.

Remember, the best way to improve the lives of your customers, colleagues, family and friends is to seek success—not perfection.

Simon LuntComment