CONFIDENCE VS. COMPETENCE?
“You need to be more confident in front of the room.”
“Jim is so effective in his role because he is so confident in what he’s doing.”
“I need more confidence in order to be successful in this job.”
“I have a lack of self-confidence… that’s why I can’t do X or Y…”
(“… but where can I get more confidence? How can I become more confident? Why aren’t I already confident?...”)
Do these sound familiar? For many of us, they do.
Let’s make some brief distinctions that can help de-mystify this thing called confidence, and support genuine movement and growth and learning… and – ultimately – achievement of new Results in our professional and personal lives.
(For those wanting to go deeper into these distinctions, see Chapter 8 – Assertions and Assessments and Chapter 9 – Declarations in my book “Language and the Pursuit of Leadership Excellence).
Consider the declaration “I’m not confident”. We all know people who, at one point or another in their lives, have characterized themselves in this way. But let’s look a bit closer. Where is “not confident”? What is “not confident”? The traditional view says that it’s part of our “personality” and that some of us are naturally outgoing and confident, while some of us are naturally much more reserved and less confident. I certainly do not doubt the influence of our biology and genetic makeup, but let’s explore a bit.
First, we can see that when we say “I’m not confident at X” or “I need more confidence in order to do Y” in the present, that this influences our future. These are declarations, so they serve as stepping stones, carrying us into the future as they influence what we’re likely to do and how we’re likely to do it.
Example – William is at a dance, he believes he’s not confident as a dancer, and he wants to ask a young lady to dance. Will he do it? Probably not. Why not? Because (he has declared) he’s not confident and until he gets confident, he can’t dance or ask people to dance. People who are not confident hang out at the edge of the gym, so he guesses that’s what he’ll do. After all, he (tells himself) he’s not confident. Here we can see a clear case where our declarations and assessments about ourselves limit our possibilities.
What if William decides that he is really committed to dancing, and he declares his commitment to improve his competency (not his confidence) on the dance floor. As the initial step, he declares himself a beginner at dancing which moves him to research teachers and sign up for lessons. He goes to his lessons, he puts his body into it, and he practices… for 4-5 weeks, 3-4 days per week. He also watches a lot of music videos and dances by himself in his room, and he ultimately even practices a time or two with his favorite cousin. Then at the next dance, even though his body is freaking out, sweating, knees knocking, and feeling terribly uncomfortable… he takes the Action of asking someone to dance, she says yes and they dance. (Or she says no, he asks someone else and this time she says yes, and they dance).
Over some time, learning takes place, and William is much more practiced and in the process becomes more competent at dancing. Let’s say at some later date you come into the gym and see him dancing. Question: Is William still “not confident”?
No – now he’s confident, or outgoing, or whatever. All assessments. All about his Actions or lack of Actions, not about him. None of them are permanent descriptions of his inherent personhood. They are all assessments, opinions, judgments, characterizations made by different Observers out of different standards, moods, and beliefs.
If we choose, we can take some Action with this new understanding of “not confident” (or any other limiting primary declaration we may have adopted). We can declare ourselves a beginner at dancing (or something else), get a teacher, enter into learning, practice, and develop some competency. Does this mean that all people are equally comfortable and equally competent at dancing? Of course not. What it does mean is that by holding the assessment ‘not confident’ as only an assessment, we open possibilities for Action that are not available with traditional interpretations.
With the traditional understanding of confidence or lack of it as some permanent feature of who we “really” are, what are we to do if we want to produce different Results? We can’t go to the local supermarket and purchase 50 pounds of confidence! But we can focus on competence right now, declaring ourselves beginners and moving into new learning.
I, along with most of us, certainly realize that a certain amount of this is certainly hardwired as part of our DNA and genetic inheritance and biological pre-disposition. However, it’s also my claim that if we have the interpretation that we are not confident (or that we are stupid or not enough or whatever) and if we hold that these are some permanent features or biological characteristics of who we “really” are, these interpretations limit our possibilities for designing something different. These interpretations – these declarations held as The Truth – can paralyze us. These interpretations usually do not lead to new breakthrough Results, especially if we want tomorrow to be different than yesterday.
Moving forward, the invitation is to be clear about the new actions we want to learn how to take, and focus on competence and learning instead of confidence.
We can declare ourselves beginners, give someone permission to teach or coach us, and move into learning, practicing… because we know that learning “about” is not the same as learning “to do”!
Learning and competence are aspects we can dramatically impact, and by focusing on these we can improve both our effectiveness and our emotional well-being.
No matter your particular outlook or pre-dispositions, the invitation here is to always focus on competence and new learning when you are seeking new Results - whether those Results include better presence in front of the room, more effective meetings or better ballroom dancing!
I wish you well on all fronts, I look forward to hearing from you anytime for any reason and to being a resource for you and your team… and remember: Never Stop Learning!