Leading Choices

70% of people have dealt with self-doubt at least one time in their lives. Your occupation or gender has no impact on this result. Clearly, you’re not the only one affected by this thought. Most leaders who open up about a struggle with self doubt think they are the only ones.

How Doubt Affects Your Leadership

Unreasonable doubt becomes disempowering and impacts your leadership development if it remains unregulated. If you can’t empower yourself, how will you be able to empower the people you lead?. 

1 – Leading Thought

"Whether you think you can or you think you can't – you're right." (Henry Ford) Click To Tweet

2 – You Choose: How You Overcome Doubt

To start, reassess what happened, objectively. Separate facts from feelings: What was said vs how did it feel? What assumptions did you make? How could what you have said be misunderstood? What is at stake here? Is there something big at stake or is your ego exaggerating the moment? 

  1. Practice self-awareness. Examine how you respond in different situations. How do you respond at ease? Under pressure? When you’re tired? What matters most to you and how does it come out in your responses? What are your strengths and when are they optimally used? Self-reflection and self-regulation are learned practices that help you to overcome doubt. They also help your interpersonal capabilities.
  2. Get over it. Easier said than done. If you need time to recover, give yourself a limit, maybe an hour. Don’t let the heat of the moment turn into a wildfire. In tough cases, sleep on it.
  3. Embrace self-compassion and grace. No one cares as much as you do about your mistakes. 
  4. Avoid the comparison trap. When you look at other leaders, you only see the highlights, not the day-to-day challenges they encounter. The comparison trap doesn’t take your growth into account. It takes a static picture of a moment in time. If you compare, measure your progress from where you’ve started. Your leadership, your life, your growth – not everyone else’s. 
  5. Relive the moment. Envision it differently. Role play a different moment and outcome. Then reflect: What makes it better? What is different? What are you learning about yourself and the situation?
  6. Recover quickly. If you need to attend another executive meeting, you need to free your mind to be fully present. Find a moment to be by yourself, even if it means turning your back to the room for a minute. Recall your strengths, your intentions, your vision, values and what brings you joy and matters to you. This ad hoc micro-meditation is intended to refocus you on your why and shift your mind away from self-destructive, unproductive thoughts. It will help you to get you ready to perform. 
  7. Assess your inner circle. You’ve heard the saying that we’re the average of the five people we spend most time with. Are the people surrounding you inflaming your self-doubt or are they helping you objectively. Are you growing with them? 
  8. Beware of excuses holding you back. Doubt has the potential to chase us into our comfort zones by rationalizing our fears and circumstances to suit our emotional vulnerability. As a result, we make excuses that confirm our doubts. Think about past opportunities you turned down. What did you tell yourself? Did you make excuses or had legitimate reasons?
  9. Don’t rely on validation. This can be tough. Leaders care about how they lead and the impact they have. Many leaders say the want to have their finger on the pulse of the organization. Of course, input and advice from others can be helpful. Validation or feedback cycles become helpful when they impede your decision-making ability by increasing your doubt in making a decision. Determine the cutoff point upfront to decide at what point you’ll make a decision. 

How You Can Use Doubt to be Successful

There is a healthy self-doubt you don’t want to overlook: Every time you do something new, it will be a first. Some ‘firsts’ feel less intimidating than others. Recall moments where you took on a new challenge, a big one. You wondered if it would work. Perhaps it would make you look like a fool. First, ask yourself:

  • How did I feel after I mastered the new professional challenge?
  • What did I learn in the process?
  • How have challenges impacted my leadership development?
  • What was the objective result?

Second, use what you learn about yourself in your reflection on your self-doubt to understand your leadership style. Leadership styles differ. Some leaders are strong influencers. Others see themselves as enablers, or visionaries, orchestrators, etc.

  • What is behind your doubt?
  • What matters most to you, and why?
  • How would you like the situation you’re facing to turn out?
  • Who do you need to be?
  • Who do you aim to become?
  • Is your doubt standing in the way of that? Is your doubt healthy? If so, how do you use it as a tool to be better informed, better prepared, and ready to act?

Competent and Successful People Deal With Doubt, Too

Confidence is often overrated. Confidence does not always equal high performance or competence, contrary to popular belief about business leaders. But overconfidence is risky because it increases the potential for mistakes.

A healthy dose of reasonable doubt allows you to take a critical, objective look at yourself and at challenges. Business leaders can use it to ask discovery questions that will lead to criteria for making sound decisions.

Reasonable doubt can help you uncover blind spots. It allows you to make a humble assessment of a situation and your capabilities. This exercise helps the leadership development of yourself and other business leaders in your team.

3 – Way to Grow!

Here are more resources to deal with doubt. Some of the items in the list include affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking them.

  • Self-compassion Will Make You a Better Leader (HBR article) – 4 min. read
  • Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness (book summary) – 15 min. read / audio
  • Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts and Doubters (book) – 236 pages

Here’s to leading with great choices!


The Leading Choices newsletter covers three parts in each edition: 
1    Leading Thought

Inspiration from accomplished leaders

2    Your Choice

Insights impacting your leadership and career choices 

3    Way to Grow

Resources for your growth

Zaradigm is an affiliate: When you decide to purchase items that were referred on this page via an affiliate link, we may earn a small commission.