Building Confidence: Why it’s critically important to keep ‘topping up the bath’

By the time I ran through the airport, I was exhausted!

By the time I ran through the airport, I was exhausted!

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.

Interesting Job: 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 skepticism, just a particularly well argued version).

Lost Wallet: Safely across the pond, I took a cab for the 40-mile journey to the hotel. Outside the hotel, 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.

Lunch Time: 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 1 year. All was good in the world.

Confidence Loss: 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 persons 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.

Confidence Impact: 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.

Moving Target: 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 3 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.

Paul Mooney

PS: Lighter Note: Here’s a couple of ‘put downs’ from history that you might enjoy. Might help you to write your next performance reviews?

“He had delusions of adequacy.” Walter Kerr

“He has all the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” Winston Churchill

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.”
William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

A Member of Parliament to Disraeli: “Sir, you will either die on the gallows or of some unspeakable disease.” “That depends,” said Disraeli, “on whether I embrace your policies or your mistress.”

“I am enclosing two tickets to the first night of my new play; bring a friend, if you have one.” George Bernard Shaw to Winston Churchill

“Cannot possibly attend first night, will attend second…. if there is one.” Winston Churchill, in response.

“I’ve just learned about his illness. Let’s hope it’s nothing trivial.” Irvin S. Cobb

“His mother should have thrown him away and kept the stork.” Mae West

“He has Van Gogh’s ear for music.” Billy Wilder

“I’ve had a perfectly wonderful evening. But this wasn’t it.” Groucho Marx.

Know someone who’d benefit from this blog? Ask them to email and we’ll add them to the list. Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


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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4 Responses to Building Confidence: Why it’s critically important to keep ‘topping up the bath’

  1. Grahame Morphey says:

    Enjoyed that, good point re confidence.

    Interesting it would be a German, culturally ‘digital’ to an Irishman with high relationship as part of exchanges.

    What I find useful is to reflect on the positives in terms of who you are – what you have achieved, what skills these imply why should you give someone else the permission to make you feel ‘bad’ about yourself!!!
    In Germans case I find they operate on a different Relating way to Irish.

  2. Mick says:

    Great anecdote and spot on , Paul. Just observe centre-forwards ,in any sport , who lose their confidence !

    I think we all need constant shots of self induced ( or externally inflicted ) confidence boosters , just to keep that glass overflowing ( half-full doesn’t cut it anymore ! ) .


    • I agree 100% Mick. Making it part of the routine is the easiest way to do this. I might return to this topic with a more specific ‘how’. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Regards. Paul

      Sent from my iPhone

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