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Don't Let Doubts Absorb Your Organization — Use Them to Grow as a Leader

You can't lead a team effectively until you take steps to regain your confidence.

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No matter who you are or what you do, there will be times that you question whether you’re on the right path. The problem is that doubt can permeate your organization if you lack the necessary conviction to move the business forward.

André Spicer, a professor at City University London, recently theorized that doubt causes leaders to respond in one of four ways: cling to existing beliefs, cease organizational investment, project a vision of the future that leaves no room for doubt or begin to experiment and innovate.

None of these responses is inherently wrong. And depending on your organization, one approach might better suit your employees. The key to determining the best course of action is acknowledging that you don’t always have the answers. Once you accept that fact and learn from leaders facing similar challenges, you can begin to broaden your perspective.

You might have stumbled into a leadership role, but there’s a reason why you’re at the helm of your organization. Your next step should be to find ways to overcome self-doubt and restore your confidence. When you move past hesitancy, you put yourself in a better position to determine the best course of action. Here’s what I’ve learned about overcoming doubt as an agency consultant:

Related: A 5-Step Approach to Managing Imposter Syndrome

1. Give yourself permission to be yourself and use your strengths

You can be a good leader without fitting inside a particular box. If you’re suited to being an implementer and integrator, craft your environment around those leadership qualities. If you’re an off-the-wall visionary, do the same. Don’t unintentionally model yourself based on some caricature of a leader.

You can contribute at the leadership level no matter how you’re wired. It all comes down to understanding that you’re never going to be a perfect leader; you don’t need to twist yourself into a pretzel to fit some preconceived mold. Be yourself while working and growing into the leader you were meant to be.

Lila Ibrahim, chief operating officer of DeepMind, hasn’t been shy about her difficulties with self-doubt when first stepping into the role. Ibrahim doesn’t have a background in artificial intelligence or research, but the company’s primary work involves building a mechanical version of the human brain to advance science. She had to take a step back to realize why she was hired, and other leaders need to do the same thing from time to time.

2. Change your internal narrative to be empowering rather than defeating

People sometimes focus on their perceived shortcomings, which can quickly lead to questions about whether they’re the right person for the job. But if you switch that line of thinking and focus on how you’re the right person for the job, you begin to change that internal narrative.

This creates an opportunity to add a new voice to the conversation and approach things differently — maybe in ways your organization hasn’t explored yet. This will stop you from clinging to existing processes and beliefs if you’re trying to be more innovative.

Ellen Taaffe, a clinical assistant professor and director of women’s leadership at the Kellogg School of Management, has been open about her tactics for building self-confidence. She believes it starts with changing your language: Instead of using opening qualifiers or rhetorical questions, set the stage for a conversation. Avoid phrases such as, This might be a bad idea, but… or Am I making sense? Ask people for their thoughts or whether they have any questions. This demonstrates confidence without minimizing your contributions, which can do wonders to silence the doubtful voice in your head.

Related: When Was Your Last Public Speaking Opportunity? Here’s How to Brush Up on Your Skills.

3. Rely on your community and the people who can broaden your perspective

Doubt never goes away completely. While you will likely reach a place in your career where you’ll feel confident, you will still encounter situations that drum up self-doubt. The goal is to manage that doubt, using it to push your boundaries and open doors that might bring out your inner critic.

This is where your community can come in handy. Surrounding yourself with the right people can help get you out of your head and maintain a healthier perspective of your abilities. Mentors, coaches, advisors, peer groups and others can keep imposter syndrome at bay.

At Agency Management Institute, for example, we have several communities and peer groups. The agency owners we work with come together to share their respective financials from time to time to keep things transparent and provide some perspective. It might seem like one agency is crushing it from the outside, but the company could be experiencing a lousy year. This provides everyone with a better frame of reference that can help quell feelings of self-doubt.

Related: Now What? How to Lead to the Other Side of COVID-19.

At some point, you will find yourself in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation that awakens your inner critic. When that happens, just remind yourself to take a breath, be yourself and flip the script. Make your internal narrative one of empowerment instead of defeat. And above all else, turn to those you trust. They see you for who you really are.

Drew McLellan

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Writer

Drew McLellan is the CEO of Agency Management Institute, serving 250+ agencies to help the owners build profitable agencies that evolve and scale.