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Confidence and leadership: Self-doubt is a good thing

Guess The Leader

“I’m not a naturally confident person.

At school, I bumped along the bottom, being a bit of a class clown.

I wanted to be an architect or lawyer, but my school exam results weren’t good enough.

I did a management degree, then applied to work for a series of high profile, glamorous brands.

I was rejected by all of them.

I applied to join Tesco, a company that seemed on the up.

I failed to get the job.

Then, by chance, they decided the guy who did get the job was so brilliant they wanted him to do something more important.

And they came back to the rejected candidate – me – and said do you want it after all?

I said yes. I stayed with Tesco for 33 years”

Who was it?

Terry Leahy, the CEO who took Tesco from being a mid-ranking UK supermarket chain to being the dominant force in UK retailing and the third largest retailer in the world.

Leadership lessons for us?

1. Confidence and ego: “I’m not naturally confident.” How extraordinary. Sometimes the greatest leaders are the most objective. And that can mean a lack of ego, of a natural assumption that their idea or solution must be the best one.

They don’t assume they have the right answers. And as a result, they work harder and question themselves more. Those who worked with Leahy, tho’, would say he didn’t come across like that.

So, maybe that lack of confidence is best dealt with internally – putting your ideas and thoughts through a series of internal questions and tests in your head, exactly the same as you do with external ideas that come into you.

2. Failure and success:  There’s some small print that appears at the end of investment adverts in the UK. It’s something like “Past success is no guarantee of similar future returns.” The same applies to failure.

I’ve lost count of the number of great leaders who did not ‘look promising’ or who failed or did poorly academically when younger. One to remember when recruiting, maybe.

Don’t just look at past performance. Look for the potential, the untapped talent, that previous bosses have missed in that person. And that even the interviewee themselves may not be aware of. Great leaders bring out the greatness in others.

More on self-doubt and leadership

There’s a great post on ‘self-doubt’ from a blogger I discovered through the Leadership Hub newspaper we just introduced. I’ll try and find it again and put the link here, as ‘self-doubt’ is widely-underrated as an attribute for leaders. In fact, it’s seen as something a leader should never admit to.

Ah, found it…

“f you don’t grapple with self-doubt, you’re dangerous” The Five Positive Powers of Self-Doubt . It’s on the Leadership Freak blog. Great blog.


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