Can you have self-confidence when you are just starting in your first ever managerial or any other fairly demanding role? Unlikely. Having never done it before, you must first go through an UNCONFIDENT learning stage.
And as you often err in the beginning, do you think highly of yourself? You likely follow the popular unwise advice to ‘fake it till you make it’ and thereby commit more harm than you may have previously thought.
This article hence aims to debunk a widely held false belief that high self-esteem and self-confidence are pillars of leadership and expertise. In fact, these characteristics, contribute to a widespread incompetence, concept popularized as the Peter Principle. Because, if you got self-esteem, you think too highly of your ‘self’ and manipulate yourself or others about your weaknesses; that is, you lack the “main leadership success prerequisite: full self-acceptance and clear perception of reality.” (Albert Ellis) And if you are self-confident, get out of your comfort zone to prove yourself otherwise.
To show why terms SELF-ESTEEM and SELF-CONFIDENCE are harmful, ‘SELF’ must be clarified first. Then it will become evident why SELF-ACCEPTANCE and TASK CONFIDENCE are healthier concepts.
TERMINOLOGY: Eliminating the Confusion in Leadership Concepts
THE SELF “is every conceivable thing about you that can be rated: behaviors, thoughts, personality characteristics, feelings, sensations, images, dreams, bodily parts. Self is extremely complex & constantly changing. Possessions [and other people] are not part of your ‘self’.” (Windy Dryden, international leading expert in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy)
SELF-ESTEEM: Since the term ‘esteem’ means ‘to estimate’, self-esteem means estimating one’s own ‘self’. It’s a highly subjective, non-factual evaluation-judgment of your ‘self’.
HIGH SELF-ESTEEM is therefore an overgeneralized unrealistically positive global estimation of one’s own ‘self’. As Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani and Dr. Hammond Tarry state, we inflate our positives and deflate our negatives “even if it involves distorting reality. We tend to take credit for our successes, and to blame our failures on others. We think our honesty [is] above average, and that we are less prejudiced than others. We also distort (in a positive way, of course) our performances, and our romantic experiences. (Crocker & Park, 2004)”.
HIGH SELF-CONFIDENCE: “The term ‘confidence’ means having faith and trust that you can do something. So self-confidence means having faith and trust that you can do everything that relates to your ‘self’.” (Windy Dryden) But it is impossible to be confident about every one of the thousands of aspects of one’s ‘self’. And no person has ever become proficient at a new important difficult skill by being self-confident while attempting to do it for the first time.
Given “the fact that self-confidence seems to imply self-rating, in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy we encourage people to strive for greater task confidence based on a healthy philosophy of unconditional self-acceptance.” (Windy Dryden)
UNCONDITIONAL ACCEPTANCE OF SELF AND OTHERS is the skill enabling you to:
- recognize the human impulse to estimate and bias any person in totality,
- refuse to yield to this urge,
- evaluate or compare only aspects of your and others’ ‘self’ (and not your or their totality),
- accept common human fallibility and the many negative aspects of your and others’ ‘self’,
- take constructive action to solve problems and achieve goals, rather than passive resignation.
TASK CONFIDENCE is a belief that you can eventually learn to do a specific task. “You only develop task confidence when you achieve a number of such successes, and this means two things: learning how to do the task, and doing the task UNCONFIDENTLY at first until you begin to become confident at it.” (Windy Dryden) With inevitable initial failures, both self-esteem and self-confidence likely turn low for most people. But with the unconditional self-acceptance there is no negative self-labeling and, hence, initial disappointments likely won’t change the focus from overcoming the challenge and persisting to full task confidence.
Each human is incredibly complex, constantly changing, and fallible. It is thus false to assign one global value to anybody – yet most people do it most of the time. Those overestimating themselves tend to advance but they either distort their inner reality or ‘fake it until they make it’. Management and HR often seek to promote these distortions disguised as high self-esteem and self-confidence. This often leads to widespread incompetence, concept popularized by the Peter Principle.
But, “If you have self-esteem, then you’re sick, sick, sick, because you say: I’m okay because I do well and because people love me, so when I do poorly, which I’m a fallible human and will, and people hate me because they may jealously hate me or they just don’t like me, then back to shithood I go.” (Albert Ellis)
And if you’re bursting with self-confidence, you’re likely NOT trying out new things nor learning new skills – because that would push you out of your COMFORT zone. Since you would have to first go through an UNCONFIDENT stage before becoming proficient in the new skill, you likely will not want to put the dent in your ego driven self-confidence.
So, if you have high self-esteem and are self-confident “you are almost certainly lacking the main prerequisite for leadership success: the full acceptance of yourself and clear perception of the crummy reality in which you inevitably reside.” (Albert Ellis, REBT Founder)
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©2021 Gordan Dzadzic, Coach and Management Consultant, www.accept2lead.com, All Rights Reserved
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About the Author
Gordan Dzadzic is a Coach who applies Cognitive Behavioral Coaching, Transactional Analysis and NLP to help professionals achieve their business and personal goals. Gordan is also a Management Consultant with previous experience in Lean Startups and Executive Board membership; international donor projects on government policy, institution building, and public & investment finance; SAP & Oracle ERP agile implementations; Information Technology consulting.
- Ellis, Albert, “Executive Leadership: A Rational Approach,” 1978.
- Ellis, Albert, (2005.) “The Myth of Self-Esteem: How Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy Can Change Your Life Forever.”
- Jhangiani, Dr. Rajiv and Dr. Hammond Tarry, Chapter “The Feeling Self: Self-Esteem”, book “Principles of Social Psychology” – 1st International Edition, 2011.
- Windy, Dr. Dryden, (1999.) “How to Accept Yourself.”