The Importance of Self-Doubt

I was recently asked why I would write a blog revealing insecurities about my abilities and qualifications as a People professional.  This line of questioning temporarily plunged me into a pool of self-doubt about my judgment and what the impact these admissions might do to my professional brand, but I quickly emerged with an even stronger conviction that I was doing the right thing.

Having self-doubt is probably one of my biggest assets.  It makes me a better listener; opens me up to new ideas; gives me a lens in which everyone’s point of view is equally valid; compels me to double/triple-check my assumptions and beliefs to create airtight proposals; and gives me the strength to admit “I don’t know” when I don’t have the answers.

Said another way, having self-doubt makes me work harder, question everything, and be curious about what I know, what I don’t know, what I don’t know I don’t know, and the assumptions I make.  And I can only get answers to these nagging questions by inviting others to contribute to the thinking, and by climbing down the Ladder of Inference to ensure I don’t let my personal motivations and fears sway my conclusions.  And this has led to much more enriching conversations and relationships with others.

One doesn’t usually associate self-doubt with leadership.  Our traditional image of an inspirational leader is someone with a strong, unwavering point of view and internal compass that provides direction, which they then impart to others.  They are confident in their delivery and, through their reassurances and personal conviction, can motivate groups through compelling oratory and a vivid painting of their vision.

I am naturally drawn to these types of charismatic leaders, and get a temporary ‘high’ from listening to their inspiring talks, but if I don’t see self-doubt or vulnerability, I don’t relate.  And if I don’t relate, then I don’t believe.

So when I think about what kind of leader I want to be, that’s not it.  I’d rather be one who is introspective, questions oneself, shows vulnerability, and asks others to share their views.  This may be an understated, non-charismatic leadership profile, but — make no mistake — I’m not saying that I don’t have my own point-of-view and plan.  Because I do.  It’s just that I’m constantly questioning it and open to changing it when new information or ideas surface.

It can sometimes be scary to solicit other people’s perspectives.  Because when you invite others to tell you what they think, you have an obligation as a leader to address their needs and concerns.  And you never know what people will ask for — and how you handle your response shapes their impression of you as a leader and their willingness to be honest with you in the future.  It’s much easier for a leader to not ask for feedback, and only assert, because then they only have to deal with the issues that they choose to deal with.  It’s actually less courageous, in my opinion.  And less leaderly.

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