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Self-Confidence and Success

Self-Confidence and Success

Sports stars draw on their past successes to give them confidence in new situations. That's a formula all of us can use

By Marshall Goldsmith | Businessweek

One common characteristic of the great leaders I meet is self-confidence, which of course makes sense. Leaders have to inspire confidence in others. It would be difficult for others to believe in us if we don’t even believe in ourselves.

Great leaders have to take risks. While getting to “acceptable” may not involve risk, getting to “one of a kind” does. Self-confidence gives great leaders the courage they need to take their companies—and themselves—to a new level of success.

A huge part of self-confidence comes from our previous success. Successful people tell themselves, “I have succeeded in the past. Therefore, I know I can succeed in the future.” That’s the good news about successful people’s belief in their previous success. The bad news is that it makes it hard for them to hear negative feedback.

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You may not think that this applies to you, because surely someone who can’t hear negative feedback is suffering from an ego run amok. But look closely at yourself. How do you have the confidence to wake up in the morning and charge into work, filled with optimism and eagerness to compete? It’s not because you are reminding yourself of the screw-ups you have created and the failures you have endured. On the contrary, it’s because you edit out failures and choose to run the highlight reel of your successes.

If you’re like the successful people I know, you’re focused on the positives, calling up mental images when you were the star, when you dazzled everyone and came out on top. It might be those five minutes in the executive meeting when you had the floor and nailed the argument you wanted to make. (Who wouldn’t run that highlight reel in their head as if it were the Sports Center Play of the Day?) It might be your skillfully crafted memo that the CEO praised and routed to everyone in the company. (Who wouldn’t want to reread that memo in a spare moment?) When our actions lead to a happy ending and make us look good, we love to replay it for ourselves.

My partner, Mark Reiter, discussed this with a baseball star. Every hitter has certain pitchers against whom he historically hits better than he does against others. The star told Mark, “When I face a pitcher whom I’ve hit well in the past, I always go up to the plate thinking I ‘own’ this guy. That gives me confidence.”

“What about pitchers you don’t hit well?” Mark asked. “How do you deal with a pitcher who ‘owns’ you?”


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