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"Becoming a leader is synonymous with becoming yourself.
It is precisely that simple and also that difficult.”

– Warren Bennis

What new conversation is possible from a renewed sense of self-belief?

1st June 2020

Written by Geo Hanzlik

Geo Hanzlik is a performance coach and an active member of The Argonauts.
His approach is informed by developmental psychology, family systems theory, expanded peak states, and a decade of work with entrepreneurs.
Connect with him on Linkedin

Once we believe in ourselves, we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight, or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

E.E. Cummings

This gem of a quote says a lot about leading humans. It’s instructive. It’s patient. It’s fundamental. It might be the best cultural statement never used.

“Once we believe in ourselves…” What a powerful place to start a meeting. What a wonderful place to begin quarterly planning. Or a difficult decision process. 

The power to reveal the human spirit comes because we are curious and begin asking new questions outside the box.

Immediately we set the table for an interesting conversation where we might learn about ourselves and about the other. With this new information, we can make discoveries and decisions based on new information that can move our teams and companies toward their goals.

When I ask myself this question, as to whether I believe in myself, I gain a feeling of grounding. I’m located. And when I find that I do in fact believe in myself, I feel settled and clear. My breath lengthens and my shoulders relax. I engage with the world around me with a keen sense of interest, of wonder. I can risk being curious.

And if I check in with myself and notice that I don’t believe in myself, then I have the opportunity to investigate why. I remember someone asking me, “If you don’t trust in yourself, then who can you trust?” That’s a dangerous spot to find ourselves.

Do you believe in yourself? If we are going to have any conversations about authentic or transformational leadership, then let’s start with the basics. Be absolutely honest about our current level of self-belief. We all run up and down the spectrum of belief. Some moments we have it, other times we don’t.

If I fake it and act falsely, others will smell it. That smell comes through our words, our tone, our body language. Overcompensation to make up for a lack of belief is unnerving. 

A lack of self-belief is accompanied by anxiety. Anxiety is a physical response to perceived threat. We perceive something bad will happen in the future. When we are anxious, neuroscience shows, we lose our ability to think innovatively. Flow expert Steven Kotler says we can’t make the big leaps between ideas that allow for out of the box thinking. We listen through a limited filter that’s simply attempting to mitigate threat.

We can’t make the big leaps between ideas that allow for out of the box thinking. We listen through a limited filter that’s simply attempting to mitigate threat

Steven Kotler

So we attempt to control and force outcomes out in the world—with our people, our strategies—rather than stepping back to assess our own level of self-belief. When we are anxious, our attempt to control outcomes is overblown and never creative.

A lack of self-belief also accounts for a great deal of toxicity across teams. When leaders distrust themselves, they naturally distrust others. They may say “I trust you,” but it’s disingenuous and the lack of trust spreads through the organization. Good people with great talent end up unsure about their work, unsure whether their team’s work matters. No one has any fun. People start looking forward to their weekends and vacations more than they should. And resenting the people for whom they work.

You can hire an expensive organizational consultant to do a whole shakedown of the company. At the end of the day, you’ll likely come back to the notion that the leader doesn’t believe in him or herself. Which then hits the VPs, who then don’t trust their heads. And on down the line it goes. Someone, at the end of the day, ends up yelling at their kid or kicking the dog.

And once you’ve discovered this, what do you do?

This is the challenge facing leadership today. It’s a lot for a leader to stand up to his or her own lack of self-belief. And to explore it, both within a disciplined internal practice of self-reflection like meditation or breathwork, and an external practice of getting real feedback from others, in authentic conversations. It’s a legitimate question: when you don’t believe in yourself, are you the leader you’re proud to be?


Want to read more from Geo Hanzlik?

Read his interview about leadership in times of crisis, how these times affect ourselves and our companies

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