Why it’s critically important to keep
‘topping up the bath’.
With the flight already called, I ran through the terminal like Usain Bolt to catch the link to Newark. I’d barely time to fasten the seat belt before we took off, ignoring the unwelcome stares from other passengers.
The project was particularly interesting. Working with a USA based consulting group, we were designing a performance management system for Research Scientists in a pharmaceutical company. Headquartered in New Jersey, they also had a huge operation in Berlin. The Research Scientists felt that the complex nature of their role did not lend itself to measurement. My job, in addition to the technical ‘design’ of the format, was to help overcome resistance to the concept of performance management. I’m sure you’ve been that soldier (scientists don’t have a monopoly on scepticism, just a particularly well argued version).
Safely across the pond, I took a cab for the 40-mile journey to the hotel. Outside, I couldn’t find my wallet. Luckily, some emergency Euro stuffed in the bottom of the briefcase came to the rescue and the driver (reluctantly) accepted it, having overcome his fear that he was being stiffed on the exchange rate. At the check in, the absence of credit cards plus a long story created suspicion. The receptionist must have skipped the ‘Empathy Module’ when he was studying Hotel Management: “You lost your wallet. Well, technically, I suppose it could happen!” Eventually, I got my hands on the room key, by-passing the receptions throat! It was a shaky start to a project with a new client that I’d never met.
At lunchtime the next day, still with no money, I outlined the predicament to a German consultant working alongside me. I asked: “Can you buy lunch today, because I have no money”. He said: “Yes, I also have no money”. I tried to explain the difference between being ‘short’ of money and having absolutely zilch. Eventually, with the difference clearly understood, he replied: “You will have to have a small lunch”. I took it to mean that he was tight on cash. On the self-service queue in the canteen I picked up a small bread roll and a side salad that would have looked tiny during the famine. Then my new BFF (best friend forever) bounced over to the table, carrying his lunch. To be honest, I was surprised he was able to manage it single-handedly. Under health and safety regulations, he probably should have requested a forklift to carry a tray that was so overflowing with food. The next day I got money wired in, and could get back to focusing on the job, rather than dealing with enforced Anorexia. The project turned out well and we made solid progress; the researchers signed up to the programme for a trial basis of one year. All was good in the world.
It occurred to me later that I hadn’t just lost my wallet; I’d temporarily lost my confidence. Self-confidence is a personal belief in your ability to manage and complete tasks. It acts as the backdrop to so many undertakings in life. The will to succeed and persevere through occasional setbacks depends heavily on a person’s belief in their ability to cope. Success is seldom just a matter of talent. The reason why some people always land on their feet while others, equally talented, stumble is often based on their underlying confidence. It follows that confidence often makes the difference between winning and losing, in sports and in business. Confident people set larger goals for themselves and commit to their achievement. They do what serves them best and don’t fashion their lives according to the opinions and wishes of others. They are able to manage challenges and differences of opinion effectively without the need to resort to anger or manipulation. Within organizations, while many leaders have self-confidence, the most important thing is whether they have confidence in others and therefore create the conditions in which the people they lead can get the work done and be successful.
I’m normally a reasonably confident person. I like meeting new people and enjoy public speaking (when I know something about the topic). But in New Jersey, when the ‘money’ was removed, the dial was wound back to zero, at least temporarily. I’ve witnessed this so many times in the Coaching role. People hit a speed bump or a series of negative life events and their confidence evaporates. Great players become so-so, tentative and hesitant.
The central point is that confidence is not a fixed commodity. It’s easy to lose it. You need to keep ‘topping up the bath’ – because normal life pressures cause a ‘confidence leak’. Perhaps you’ve hit one of those low points, an ebb tide where your confidence is not as high. Or perhaps your confidence level was never great to begin with (someone said to me recently “I only have to visit my mother to be reminded of all my imperfections”). Either way, you need to figure out how to get back into a winning frame of mind. Perhaps consider the Help-line as suggested by the Beatles:
“When I was younger, so much younger than today
I never needed anybody’s help in any way
But now those days are gone, I’m not so self-assured
Now I find, I’ve changed my mind, and opened up that door”
So, do you need to work on your confidence level? The answer to that question is that we probably all need to do this. The normal route to confidence building is to find something that you are really good at (or want to become good at) and enjoy. Put time into developing your skill in that area. And, perhaps take a holiday every now and then, from ‘rescuing the world’. In naval terms, a battleship is for the protection of other ships. The first three duties of a battleship are (a) stay afloat (b) stay afloat & (c) stay afloat. Confidence helps your buoyancy. Make sure that you’re afloat yourself, before putting the lifejackets on everyone else.
By Paul Mooney (Phd)
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