Coaching: Weed out doubt


A few weeks ago, my grandson was telling me a story that started out preposterous and got more so.

I think he picked up on my skepticism, because he started loudly interjecting, “trust me, it’s true,” at the end of every sentence. It reminded me of other times people have said, “trust me,” or “to be frank,” or, “let me be honest with you.” With the young story-teller, I matched his playful mood and just relaxed and enjoyed the tale being told.

But with adult exchanges, those phrases put my lie detector on alert. I begin to wonder why the speaker needs to point out that he’s being honest. What’s his usual M.O.?

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My tendency is to trust the universe. I leave my walking shoes on a boardwalk each morning, take my 3-mile hike, come back and there they are. For me, trusting the universe is a yes or no proposition. I choose to trust, and through many decades of living through my share of surprises, that trust usually ends up being confirmed.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about trusting myself. I’ve been noodling on the relationship of trust and practice. It is an interesting topic for self-reflection. The New York Times recently published a column by David Brooks in which he put forth that genius has more to do with practice than IQ. That got me going. I can still hear my tennis coach’s voice saying that the more I practice, the more I’ll trust my serve. And who practices more than Tiger Woods, whom we’ve all called a golf genius? Doesn’t he radiate self-trust on nearly every shot? I know from experience that a little doubt can put my ball in the water or an even worse place—and I’ve practiced that way too much.

So what does the relationship between practice and self-trust have to do with your business?

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Of the many functions you carry out, where do you feel the most trust in your performance? Have you practiced those parts of your job more? Do you need more practice in other aspects of your work, so that you trust your performance more in those areas? Are you sticking to the areas where you shine and avoiding others where you haven’t developed trust in yourself? Backing away from challenging issues corrodes your self-trust and robs you of the important experience of making mistakes and getting better. And that avoidance in turn will limit your growth as a leader.

There is so much going on in the environment, so many critical indicators and so many predictions. In large chunks of our world, it is impossible to get a firm grip on the outcome. We hear 18 different takes on the stock market, or where interest rates are headed, or how we’ll know when the recession is over. Placing our trust in one of those voices seems like a hit-or-miss proposition at best. It’s kind of like placing a bet at the Derby, on a horse with 50-to-one odds. Not a wager you make with total trust.

 We can all get more clarity on self-trust. When you do an accounting of your own, and you run into more self- doubt than trust—you’ve got some serious work to do. If you’re engaging in business activities where you don’t trust yourself, no one else will trust you either, even if you keep saying, “trust me.”

That accounting is the first step. Then do some sorting. Maybe you’re full of self-doubt about public speaking, or being on top of the financials in your company, or confronting people or situations that drain your energy. Maybe you don’t trust your hiring decisions, or other decisions that are sitting on your desk, awaiting your call. In which of those areas do you truly want to practice and improve? 

For that you’ll need that precious commodity, feedback. You can get that from a professional or informal coach, as long as that coach knows the topic and you well enough, and is pulling for your success.

There are some areas of doubt, where you just need to delegate—to a trusted employee or advisor. If I practiced, I’d eventually learn how to change the oil in my car. I don’t need to trust my ability in that area. I only need to trust the ability to select a resource for that job. You may have some things on that list. You may also be doubting yourself unnecessarily. Maybe you’re doing great in some area of your business, but you just don’t know it yet. Again, search for feedback. Maybe you’ve got some lingering self-doubt from an old message planted in your head ages ago. If so, pull out that weed and plant a truth.

I didn’t mention the one critical question to ask yourself: “Do I trust that I can pilot this organization through all weather conditions?” If not, start today on a lightning fast succession plan, or with everything you’ve got, begin building up that trust in yourself. 

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