Self-belief: while it appears to be sloshing around some individuals in copious quantities, others feel like they are grappling with a near-permanent drought.

Insights into the former type have emerged from a 3 August column at the Hindustan Times, [1] in which political columnist Rajdeep Sardesai presents a character sketch of Imran Khan – currently on the verge of becoming the next Prime Minister of Pakistan. Sardesai writes that Khan was “not an instant hit in politics”. However, he points out, Khan “battled on” nonetheless, “earning himself political equity for sheer resilience”.

Sardesai notes: “Indeed, intense self-belief, bordering on self-obsession, has been core of the Imran persona. It has been marked by a steadfast refusal to give up on his dreams, be it winning the World Cup in 1992, or becoming prime minister”.

Sardesai adds a telling anecdote: “I recall a conversation in his early years as a politician when his party had been routed in the elections. ‘I guess politics is not quite cricket,’ I pointed out with barely disguised scepticism. ‘Don’t worry, it’s not a question of if, but when, I become Prime Minister. Let a new generation of Pakistanis grow up and I will be ready for them!’ he said.”

Way over on the opposite end of the scale, a self-employment survey earlier this year from insurer AXA [2] found that, while many dream of starting their own businesses, summoning up sufficient self-belief is the biggest barrier. AXA noted: “When people were asked what is stopping them from starting up, half put it down to lack of self-confidence rather than financial or practical considerations.”

How do we recognise self-belief for what it is? How can we nurture it once we know it’s with us? And how can we tell the difference between believing in ourselves and being plain overconfident?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “That fine line between self-belief and overconfidence was hinted at in some recent research on narcissism, which we explored in a News & Views blog in July. However, it’s safe to say that as well as providing a beacon of reassurance and comfort to the people around you, an unshakeable reserve of healthy confidence actually keeps you going – it’s like a spare battery that you can draw upon in challenging times, and it will provide you with the resilience you need to tough those difficult phases out, or to pick yourself up after failures.”

Cooper notes: “where it becomes problematic, of course, is where it spills over into delusion, and you become incapable of discerning that it’s not just the people around you that need to learn from mistakes – it’s you, too. There are very few areas in organisational life where you can’t benefit from the wise counsel of a coach or a mentor. But this is one field in particular where a mentor, perhaps a line manager, will be of enormous help: someone who is able to see – and therefore understands – your strengths, and will encourage, support and nurture your self-belief. That individual can also assist you when you have failed, by helping you to pick yourself up and develop that resilience.”

By the same token, Cooper adds, “when you are veering towards the delusional, or starting to think you have capabilities you don’t, or you’re not even aware of what you don’t know, that’s when your mentor or line manager can really come into play. As with many of these quandaries or dilemmas, you can only work in organisations if you can work with others. No one is able sufficiently to do the type of self-monitoring required to pick up all these issues on an entirely individual basis.

“How successful or self-aware we are is only really determined by the extent to which others agree with us. It’s our colleagues and mentors who will provide us with the grid references we need to ensure that we don’t slip off the map.”

For further insights into the subject of self-belief, BOOK NOW for our upcoming webinar with Olympic Gold medallist and motivational speaker Ben Hunt-Davis MBE, set to take place from 12:30pm to 1:00pm on Wednesday 8 August

Source refs: [1] [2]

Image of Imran Khan at a press briefing courtesy of Jahanzaib Naiyyer, via Shutterstock

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