After I sold my first business and started coaching full-time, one of my memorable early client experiences was with the CEO of a blue-chip company - a lucky referral from a good friend. This client called me unscheduled one morning, to tell me what a panic he was in about that day’s shareholder AGM. He’d hit a crisis of confidence. Or, as he put it: “Who am I to be leading this? What if they find out I don’t really know what I’m doing? It feels like I’m 30 storeys up and standing on a glass floor that’s about to give way!”
I was surprised to hear this from him – the kind of business person who’d been there, done that and was about as successful (and powerful) as you can get. What I know now of course, is that nearly all business people go through this at some time or other. It’s a normal part of the up and down of business life.
Now I know nearly all business people go through this confidence crisis at some time or other"
Ever since then, I’ve been sensitive to and curious about when and why people lose confidence, and what the impact of that is. I’ve spotted three “Nevers” that might be useful for entrepreneurs to watch out for:
Lack of confidence keeps us on the starting blocks too long. The potentially profitable new project that never happens “because the time isn’t right”. Or the idea for a new business that stays just an idea “because somebody else is already doing something like it” or “we need to do more research”;
We all know the concept of the busy fool. Lack of confidence is often at the root of not turning down the wrong kind of business; or not pruning out the unprofitable clients to make space for the right ones.
Entrepreneurs tell me they don’t have confidence that anybody else will do things with the kind of passion, commitment and understanding that they do. I agree – nobody else does. But I’ve lost count of the number of people struggling (and often failing) to do a dozen things perfectly rather than let somebody else do one thing nearly right.
Confidence often fails because we’re focussing on what might go wrong. But there is good reason for that focus. I sometimes tell people my story about The Tiger In the Grass:
Imagine that you’re an early human being, just as we were evolving to walk upright on the grassy plains. It’s evening and the light is in your face and you see the long grass in front of you begin to wave. Is it waving in the evening breeze – or because there’s a large and dangerous predator trying to sneak-up on you and your family? If you guess predator and it turns out to be just the breeze, it’s no big deal. But if you think “breeze” and it IS actually a predator, your kids had better be fast runners or you are not having grandchildren!
Evolution then has hard-wired us to scan for threats and to count immediate but possibly unreal risks as potentially life-threatening. Feeling an occasional lack or even crisis of confidence is the price of our survival.
Fortunately, we don’t often come across tigers in the grass today and so there are many ways to build and manage real and lasting confidence. Here’s three of my easy favourites that seem to work well for entrepreneurs:
Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt."
We’ve all had times when what were doing was so important, so compelling or just so much fun, that even though we weren’t confident at all, we just did it anyway and blew right past our doubts. Anything you can do to amp-up the attractiveness and desirability of what you’re doing will help overcome that lack of confidence.
If your confidence is down because you’re worried about failure, aim to fail forward. Do the thing anyway, in the plain knowledge that you might fail. But build-in a way of getting something out of it nonetheless, even if it’s ‘just’ some new learning.
This was the technique that helped my blue-chip CEO client. If you were actually exactly the right person to be leading your business, and you had all the ability you need, how would you stand? How would you walk and talk and greet people? What would you prioritise?
About the writer:
Nick Robinson works with business owners to develop the behaviours, beliefs and strategies which will maximise their natural strengths and avoid the pitfalls, so that their business can grow and prosper.
As well as building and selling his own small business, he worked in finance, business planning and project director jobs, is a former chartered accountant, has an MBA from Cass business school and is a certified professional coach, an NLP master practitioner and a Newfield Network master in coaching.