Building Self Confidence: Keep Topping up the Bath!

"Come on, bring it on!"

Sometimes kids have a lot of confidence. Ken Robinson (‘How Schools Kill Creativity’- on Ted.Com) tells the story of a 6 year old girl who was drawing a picture of God. When the teacher said: “But nobody knows what God looks like” she replied: “Well, they will in a minute”. Kids are confident in the sense that they have no fear of making mistakes. Somewhere along the line to adulthood, we often lose that confidence and need to regain it.

Static Commodity: People mistakenly refer to confidence as if it were a static commodity i.e. ‘Joan is confident’ or ‘David is not confident’. My experience is that confidence is actually a moving target. And, working as an Executive Coach has led me to the firm conclusion that managers need to intermittently work on this. Like a slow leak in the front tyre of a car, confidence needs to be ‘topped up’ in order for the person to continue to perform at peak efficiency. The trick is for managers to find a way to do this, to avoid being drained and ‘running on empty’. So, how do smart managers restore their personal confidence in a desert of hassle and negativity? Perhaps the first piece of advice is to give up on the idea about achieving some mythical Work: Life balance. We live in Internet Time. The idea of having some form of wonderfully compartmentalized life is cloud cuckoo for many executives. You have to find the thing that works, a short, sharp boost for the batteries. Preferably something legal!

Music Lessons: I learned to play the guitar as a teenager, taking lessons for a couple of years from a local guy. I eventually gave up because there was too much else going on at that time. Apart from the occasional party piece, spurred on by 3 pints of Heineken (which trumps any lack of talent), I didn’t play for 20 years. A couple of years back I bought a decent guitar and the love affair with music started all over again. Who doesn’t love music? It’s creative. It’s great craic. I get to wear dark glasses bought in a Topaz promotion – and do Bono impressions (when I close my eyes, I can hear those fans screaming – a much more interesting take on the Croke Park Agreement).

Weekend Gigs: At weekends we play in the Pebble Beach pub in Clontarf. We did play in Grainger’s pub on the Malahide Road that recently went into receivership, prompting my mother in law to quip: “That pub was open for about 100 years and then closed down after his first session there”. These are ‘Open Mic’ sessions where anyone can show up and play, so it’s pretty informal. No talent prerequisite. But playing in public is a goal to practice towards and improves your confidence. Tons of fun with like-minded people, no one looking for fault, and a perfect example of a confidence building exercise. And there is a huge difference between confidence and cockyness. Peter Drucker, perhaps the father of management consulting said: “Some people refer to me as a guru, but that’s only because they can’t spell Charlatan”.

Top Ups: Now some people seem to have confidence in abundance and perhaps don’t need these ‘top up’ mechanisms’. Sometimes it’s real; sometimes it’s an outward show of bravado, which masks what lies beneath. Like the Ronald Reagan line to a Senate committee: “Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement”. This is not genuine confidence, just clever posturing.

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. Then make time to practice, using it to rejig tired batteries. Every now and then, take a break from ‘rescuing the world’  and pump more air in your own tires. Because, sometimes, even the minders need minding.

Paul Mooney

PS: More worldly wisdom from a survey conducted with kids in Toronto.
“Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.” Lynnette, age 8
“On the first date, they just tell each other lies, and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.” Martin, age 10
“I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.” Craig, age 9

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact me and we’ll add them to the mailing list.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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One Response to Building Self Confidence: Keep Topping up the Bath!

  1. Tristan says:

    Nice post, I think for self confidence the better thing is speak clear and direct with all people , looking their eyes, lossing our shame

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