Latest from Issues and Ideas

0719 Closing Comment illustration

Four Strategies for Managing Self-Doubt

July 8, 2019
An inventory of positive habits will insulate you from the inevitability of external and internal resistance.

Even when leaders are clear about where they want to take their teams, pushback from colleagues, combined with self-doubts, can cause them to become paralyzed to the point of inaction. Clarity without confidence is an ineffective formula for success.

All leaders are subject to resisters and critics — some external and some internal. Just look at some examples of external pushback that some well-known innovators needed to overcome to achieve their dreams.

When Akio Morita, then chairman of Sony, proposed manufacturing a tape player that didn’t record, he was met with tremendous resistance. Sony was known for tape recorders that recorded and played. His critics questioned why anyone would purchase a recorder that didn’t record.

Morita pushed ahead despite the criticism, and the result was the Sony Walkman, a product that met with universal acclaim, demonstrated a new application for personal technologies, and became a precursor to the iPod and other mp3 players that now are now standard consumer products. Had it not been for Morita’s persistence in the face of opposition, would the world have had the iPod as soon as we did?

Another example of a leader with a vision is Fred Smith, founder of FedEx. When Smith was selling his idea to deliver packages “absolutely, positively overnight,” critics were quick to point out that major airlines would already be doing this if there was a market for such a service. We all know the phenomenal success of FedEx, and its several competitors that emerged later, and this success is due largely to Smith’s willingness to counter the mainstream thinking of the time, that this was unlikely to be a profitable venture.

Leaders, at times, need to take leaps of faith, particularly when they have thought through and believe enthusiastically in the idea they are pursuing. There always will be naysayers, and when we concede too much of our own confidence to their doubt we risk missing the benefits that derive from decisive actions pursued despite resistance, the sort of rewards that are paid to pioneers and innovators.

While external pushback can be powerful, more often your own self-doubt prevents you from moving forward. You may have noticed that the bolder visions and bigger plans draw louder critics, including the interior doubters. But frequently these saboteurs may be recognized as confirmation that you are not playing small.

Some of the common “inner voices” we hear, if we are honest with ourselves, are: “You don’t know what you’re doing.” … “You’re not up to this.” … “You won’t succeed.” … “You’ll look like a fool.” … “No one will support you.”

Self-doubt is normal and comes with the territory of leading others to some better or more advantageous future. Instead of focusing on eliminating doubts, a better approach is simply to manage them. Here are four strategies that you will find helpful in managing self-doubt:

1. Be aware of negative “self-talk,” and get good at recognizing it as distinct from your true intent. Recognize these voices as normal for successful people taking on big projects.

2. Consider alternative perspectives, or different ways of looking at the same situation. Acknowledge and act on your power to choose how you will think. If you are thinking, “I will fail at this,” consider how the alternative — “I will succeed at this” — might cause you to choose a different path. Often, we cannot know whether we will succeed or fail before we try something different. Henry Ford was correct when he said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t — you’re right.”

3. Ignore your self-doubts once they have been exposed as the imposters that they are.

4. Don’t panic. Know that everything can appear to be a failure “in the middle.”

Keeping our doubts in check will naturally contribute to greater confidence. A way to reinforce that confidence is to construct a Confidence Net comprising a repertoire of positive habits that buffer you from the onslaught of both external and internal pushbacks. These habits, when performed consistently, feed our confidence, and provide us with the ability to remain focused on our own plans, despite the noise all around us.

When asked what personal habits contribute to greater confidence, many leaders point to regular exercise, daily prayer or meditation, positive affirmations, and even a power outfit.

Like safety nets, designed as insurance to help people through life’s shocks and stresses, such as those created by illness, unemployment or job displacement, a Confidence Net is your very own personal structure to mitigate the effect, and lower the volume, of your inner voices or self-doubts.

Dr. David Chinsky is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Leadership Fitness and author of "The Fit Leader’s Companion: A Down-to-Earth Guide for Sustainable Leadership Success.” With nearly 20 years’ experience as an executive at Ford Motor Co., Nestlé, and Thomson Reuters, he focuses now on preparing leaders to achieve professional effectiveness and leadership fitness. Learn more at

About the Author

David Chinsky | Founder, CEO

Dr. David Chinsky is the founder and CEO of the Institute for Leadership Fitness and author of The Fit Leader’s Companion: A Down-to-Earth Guide for Sustainable Leadership Success.