Friday, April 29, 2011

Want to Build Your Confidence? Preparation is the Key.

“Fake it until you make it”, an expression popularized by Mary Kay Ash, always sticks in my mind for building confidence. It’s a good sound byte if you’re in the in the glare of the media, leading a team, running an organization or performing in front of an audience. We all squirm if a person shows discomfort, doesn’t recover graciously from a faux pas or whines without offering a positive way forward. But, it’s only a coping strategy, with little long-lasting effect unless coupled with the real builders of confidence.

After witnessing Patrick Chan wow the world with his gold medal performance at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships, it’s clear that more than a mental mantra works. A number of media stories before the Worlds reported Patrick’s exhaustive preparation, especially for the quad jump which has not been his strength.

“Preparation equals security equals positive emotion equals better performance” as Tony Schwartz author of Be Excellent at Anything puts it. It’s that “deliberate practice” focus, 10,000 hours or more, documented by researchers such as K. Anders Ericsson, that makes the difference. Scientists, artists, athletes, people in the military and related professions, doctors, etc. know this well.

The manifestation of confidence is best seen when we’re under pressure. Do we fold or rise to the occasion? It’s hard to do if you haven’t practiced, if you are not prepared, as Justin Menkes asserts in his Better Under Pressure and a recent HBR Idea Cast. He describes three ways for top CEOs to become better prepared and thus build confidence:

1. Be realistically optimistic: no one likes to hang around a pessimist

2. Be subservient to purpose: that’s what fires people up

3. Find order in chaos: there is always a way through complexity

You don’t have to be a top CEO for these to apply!

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