There is no bigger cliché in business psychology than the idea that high self-confidence is key to career success. It is time to debunk this myth. In fact, low self-confidence is more likely to make you successful.
After many years of researching and consulting on talent, I've come to the conclusion that self-confidence is only helpful when it's low. Sure, extremely low confidence is not helpful: it inhibits performance by inducing fear, worry, and stress, which may drive people to give up sooner or later. But just-low-enough confidence can help you recalibrate your goals so they are (a) more realistic and (b) attainable. Is that really a problem? Not everyone can be CEO of Coca Cola or the next Steve Jobs.
If your confidence is low, rather than extremely low, you stand a better chance of succeeding than if you have high self-confidence. There are three main reasons for this:
- Lower self-confidence makes you pay attention to negative feedback and be self-critical:Most people get trapped in their optimistic biases, so they tend to listen to positive feedback and ignore negative feedback. Although this may help them come across as confident to others, in any area of competence (e.g., education, business, sports or performing arts) achievement is 10% performance and 90% preparation. Thus, the more aware you are of your soft spots and weaknesses, the better prepared you will be.Low self-confidence may turn you into a pessimist, but when pessimism teams-up with ambition it often produces outstanding performance. To be the very best at anything, you will need to be your harshest critic, and that is almost impossible when your starting point is high self-confidence. Exceptional achievers always experience low levels of confidence and self-confidence, but they train hard and practice continually until they reach an acceptable level of competence. Indeed, success is the best medicine for your insecurities.
- Lower self-confidence can motivate you to work harder and prepare more: If you are serious about your goals, you will have more incentive to work hard when you lack confidence in your abilities. In fact, low confidence is only demotivating when you are not serious about your goals.Most people like the idea of being exceptional, but not enough to do what it takes to achieve it. Most people want to be slim, healthy, attractive and successful, but few people are willing to do what it takes to achieve it — which suggests that they don't really want these things as much as they think. As the legendary Paul Arden (ex creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi) noted: "I wantmeans: if I want it enough I will get it. Getting what you want means making the decisions you need to make to get what you want.". If you really want what you say you want, then, your low confidence will only make you work harder to achieve it — because it will indicate a discrepancy between your desired goal and your current state.
- Lower self-confidence reduces the chances of coming across as arrogant or being deluded. Although we live in a world that worships those who worship themselves — from Donald Trump to Lady Gaga to the latest reality TV "star" — the consequences of hubris are now beyond debate. According to Gallup, over 60% of employees either dislike or hate their jobs, and the most common reason is that they have narcissistic bosses. If managers were less arrogant, fewer employees would be spending their working hours on Facebook, productivity rates would go up, and turnover rates would go down.Lower self-confidence reduces not only the chances of coming across as arrogant, but also of being deluded. Indeed, people with low self-confidence are more likely to admit their mistakes — instead of blaming others — and rarely take credit for others' accomplishments. This is arguably the most important benefit of low self-confidence because it points to the fact that low self-confidence can bring success, not just to individuals but also to organizations and society.
In brief, if you are serious about your goals, low self-confidence can be your biggest ally to accomplish them. It will motivate you to work hard, help you work on your limitations, and stop you from being a jerk, deluded, or both. It is therefore time debunk the myth: High self-confidence isn't a blessing, and low self-confidence is not a curse — in fact, it is the other way around.
By Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic