Self Confidence in Leadership

self confidence in leadership

self confidence in leadership

Marshall Goldsmith is an author, professor, consultant and executive coach.   He has an entry in Wikepedia and searching his name on Google gets 272,000 results – enough to give anyone self confidence! Whilst his field of excellence covers business and management, he appears to have guru status in Leadership.  Unsurprisingly, when he coaches CEO’s (and potential CEO’s) he rarely encounters problems with self confidence.

But Marshall didn’t get where he is today without being able to give sound advice on this topic. After all, if you spend your working life surrounded by confident people you should pick up a few tips.  And you won’t have to buy one of his many books, as Marshall sums it all up in two sentences on his rather unassuming blog:-

You won’t get to the top without self-confidence; to build it, you have to believe in yourself. Don’t worry about being perfect — put up a brave front and do the best you can.

Whilst its written with a business slant, its worth reading his blog post. But in summary he expands the above into 5 points.

Don’t Worry about Being Perfect

Perfectionism is something that has come up several times in past posts, linking to setting yourself impossibly high standards and never feeling what you have done is good enough.

In most situations we find ourselves we have to make judgements based on less than perfect knowledge.  Spending more time trying to get more and more information can be counter productive.  At some point you need to make a decision – or decide what you have done is “good enough” – and go for it.

And then Commit

Once you have made a decision don’t start reviewing and back peddling. Accept that you made the best decision you could at the time, based on available information, and stand by that and let others know that. As Marshall says:-

Great leaders communicate with a sense of belief in what they are doing and with positive expectations toward the achievement of their vision.

Show courage on the outside

Everyone is afraid sometimes; as a leader you just try not to show it. No one can see how you feel on the inside, unless you transmit it. I’ve written about looking confident and portraying self confidence through your body language and speech.

Find happiness and contentment in your work

He doesn’t really add anything, just a somewhat broad and meaningless statement.

Learn to live with failure

For me, this is one of the most important and most over looked aspects of gaining self confidence. Throughout life we learn from failure, from mistakes. When very young these failures are often physically painful – e.g. falling off from a height hurts!

Unfortunately these lessons can also be emotionally painful and we end up with very negative feelings about failure. Ultimately failure is bad, something to avoid at all costs. We do our utmost to avoid failure – or avoid admitting it. We make excuses,  try to pass it on to others. Or just pretend it didn’t happen.

What this all means is we don’t learn to learn from failure, let alone to live with it.  The most successful people are those who have been prepared to make mistakes,  move on and try again. Great salespeople are the ones who get rejected the most often.

So a great step forward in building your self confidence, and leadership potential, is to learn to handle failure.  Never label yourself a failure just because you fail sometimes. If you’re surrounded by people who call you a failure, learn to re-frame and not absorb their judgements.

Learn from your mistakes and move on. In an earlier post, fear of failure, I include a video that lists some famous celebrities who “failed” early in their careers, but rose to huge success. And what’s worse than failing is not trying at all.

photo by familymwr on flickr

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Corinne Edwards March 16, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Dear David –

One of your best posts.

And the best advice for me is –

“Don’t Worry about Being Perfect
Perfectionism is something that has come up several times in past posts, linking to setting yourself impossibly high standards and never feeling what you have done is good enough.”

I believe that this one tip is enough to get started. Nobody’s perfect.

When are we going to stop trying?I

David March 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm

Thank you for the compliment. Ironically this was a post I started last year, but suddenly to the urge to finish. It does sum up several points. Thanks again

Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny March 16, 2011 at 8:05 pm

Watching athletes provides excellent examples for learning to live with failure. The best ones fail because they take risks. When it doesn’t work out, they have a variety of responses. Only having one, like beating ourselves up for getting it wrong, for example dooms us to mediocrity. Great article with lots to think about.

David March 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm

Thanks for your comment. We can learn a lot from athletes, the problem is most people are not motivated to change, the way athletes are

Beat Schindler March 17, 2011 at 4:41 am

Great post! Goldsmith’s advice is sound and his career and success stunning … when you consider it’s all oh so utterly obvious … once you get it. Like staring at a 3D picture. You feel like an ass because you don’t see/get it. Next thing you know you feel like an ass because it took you so long to see/get it, finally, in an instant. Maybe Mr Goldsmith’s lesson is don’t care about self-confidence, whether you have it or not, just go effing do it – be a star of the obvious … everyone else is?
– Beat

David March 19, 2011 at 11:31 am

Looking at his blog, most of his advice could be classed as common sense. I certainly got the impression that he is somewhat surprised that other, lesser mortals have a problem with self confidence! Thanks for the comment

Bruce March 17, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Don’t try to be perfect, Commit, Show courage until you actually have courage and be prepared to fail and try again. What great advice and what a great way you broke it down and analyzed it here.

David March 19, 2011 at 11:33 am

Thanks for the compliment and comment. It does sound so simple, why don’t we do it?!

Andrew @ Build Blog March 17, 2011 at 12:57 pm


Nice readable post. I really enjoyed it.

Re: Perfection. In my experience (from a blogging background) many people strive for perfection because of fear.

Let’s say they are creating their first product. They often never launch because “it’s not perfect”. This often translates into fear…”No one will buy it”, “No one will like it” etc…it all boils down to self confidence.


David March 19, 2011 at 11:38 am

Thanks for your comment. That sounds very true, I know I have been guilty of this in the past, especially with products!

Debbie @ Happy Maker March 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Hi David,You really sum it up with this one. Trying to be perfect and worrying about failure. I have always believe that if you don’t try that is only when you fail. All the great people in this world learned by failure. We really don’t fail we just haven’t found the solutaion to the problem yet. As they say, “All good things take time.”
Thanks again for the great information, you are appreciated

David March 19, 2011 at 11:43 am

Thanks for your comment and kind words. It is amazing how much time and energy we waste worrying about failure, and avoiding doing things because we fear failure. Adjusting our attitude to failure can pay huge dividends.

Joel March 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I sometimes think it’s contradictory in that you need to learn from past mistakes but not dwell on them, and continually review what went wrong. I find it difficult to learn from something and move on, but it sounds like that it what can hold people back and I must try to learn and forget. Thanks David!

David March 19, 2011 at 11:54 am

I take your point, it does seem somewhat contrary. Our past is always with us, it comes back to what view we take of it. Thanks for your comment.

Krizia | Blog Income for Women March 19, 2011 at 6:48 pm

Learning to live with failure is such an important thing for entrepreneurs and not very easy.

That said, I’m learning slowly but surely about how I can use failure and turn that around into an amazing success story.

Thanks for the tips!


David March 26, 2011 at 11:43 pm

You seem very successful at the moment – make sure you learn from this as well! Thanks for your comment.

Raymond Chua March 20, 2011 at 8:41 am

Great advice, David.

I have to admit that I am a perfectionist sometimes and it really keeps me from getting where I want to be. I’m learning to get out of the cage.

David March 26, 2011 at 11:47 pm

Being a perfectionist can certainly get in the way, its intertwined with fearing failure. Thanks for your comment.

Amy LeForge March 24, 2011 at 1:00 am

Excellent, David! I’ve been working on my confidence and especially on the “And Then Commit” portion of the list. I find that forcing myself to do things in this order helps: ready, fire, aim. When I catch me obsessing too much about details, I know I need to make a choice and get moving.

David March 26, 2011 at 11:49 pm

Obsessing about details is one way of avoiding failure, as you don’t commit and start doing. So good luck with this, and thanks for your comment.

Michelle Vandepas @Conscious Livelihood March 25, 2011 at 2:54 am

This is really a great post and especially love the part about having confidence even with failure. Failure isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not what was expected.

Great job.

David March 26, 2011 at 11:51 pm

Thanks for your comment and kind words. I like the way you put it “Failure isn’t a bad thing, it’s just not what was expected.”

Tyrone March 25, 2011 at 7:26 am

Hi David,

Great post. It’s true that living without having fear of failure can always do the job on self-confidence because in fact, it’s where we dig in the knowledge through because we never know how to actually do it when we don’t experience it. So failures can normally come by but it’s how we accept it and learn along the way.


David March 26, 2011 at 11:56 pm

How we learn from failure is probably a post in itself, as it doesn’t come easily. Thanks for your comment.

tonyrey March 27, 2011 at 1:01 am

Hey , Dave thanks for your comment really helpful .
Most people with a strong ego tend to be a little perfectionist , accepting the way you are , and dealing with failure , is the key to success , we all been there , were only humans…. peace

David April 5, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Thanks for your comment. I don’t know about the link with a strong ego, but certainly the urge to be perfectionist lurks in many of us.

Sherri--Being the Change I Wish to See April 1, 2011 at 10:43 pm


Great post! I tend to be a perfectionist too much of the time, and get stuck trying to perfect something. If I accepted pretty damn good, I’d get a lot more done. I’d publish a lot more posts. I have to keep reminding myself that blog posts are not for a grade!

If we never fail at anything that means we aren’t doing anything. To do is to fail. But failure has too negative a connotation. Failing isn’t bad. It’s an unexpected outcome. Each time we do something and get it wrong, we learn how NOT to do it again. Edison found over 9000 ways NOT to make a light bulb before he found the one way TO make a light bulb. He wasn’t failing, he was learning.

We fall many times before we walk. We make many attempts before we write our first letters and our first words. We get much of our arithmetic wrong before we get it right. When we are small, we are expected to keep trying and receive a lot of encouragement to keep trying until we finally succeed. After we get older, we not only lose that encouragement from others, we internalize the fear of failure and beat ourselves up if no else is around to do it. We would be better off approaching things the way toddlers do.


David April 5, 2011 at 8:25 pm

Thanks for your great comment. I agree so much that failure has a very negative spin. Its interesting that as we know a child will eventually walk, we do encourage it. Yet most failures we don’t.

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