Overcoming Self-Doubt as a Business Leader In 5 Steps

13 min read
Jan 26, 2022

Business leaders often spend a considerable amount of time trying to silence their doubters.  But, the one that they consistently seem to neglect is the one in their own head.  By that, we mean that they don’t address their own self-doubts!

The difference between the top entrepreneurs and business owners you see in social media and read about in books and the ones who never break the glass ceiling is that the infamous ones know how to silence their own doubts.

And, not just silence them... But use them to their advantage!

If you want to not just crush self-doubt but also learn how to use it to your advantage, then follow this simple and practical 5-step guide to overcoming personal doubt!

You can't use doubt as an excuse for not doing what you know you must do for any longer, because the truth is that doubt is really the exact catalyst you need to get moving.

At the end of the day, it really doesn't matter how much others doubt you.  But what really matters is how much you doubt yourself!


Self-Doubt and Imposter Syndrome


Self-doubt comes in many forms.  But for leaders in business, the most common form of doubt is imposter syndrome.

Imposter syndrome is the experience of feeling like a fraud as a leader or doubting your abilities to fulfill the responsibilities of a high-level leadership position.  

People who experience imposter syndrome commonly question whether or not they quite frankly deserve their leadership position or if they'll survive in it, even if they couldn't be more qualified to do the work!

Additionally, many people who experience imposter syndrome often feel as if one day, someone will expose them as a fraud for being in leadership or that they’re not qualified to be there.

Bottom line… Leaders who experience imposter syndrome doubt whether or not they are both capable and qualified to do what they do.

When it comes to being an effective leader, self-doubt of any kind, particularly imposter syndrome, can have crippling effects IF you let it be that way.


Self-Doubt Is an Advantage for Business Leadership?


Yes, self-doubt can be absolutely crippling.  But, that is only if you allow it to cripple you.

Straight-up: Self-doubt is the accumulation of negative thoughts in your mind regarding your own ability to succeed.  Those thoughts create the emotions, or energy, you feel.  The energy you feel influences the actions you take, and the actions you take determine your outcomes.

So, if you are thinking negative thoughts about your abilities, it's only inevitable that you'll feel self-doubt and will ultimately not get the kind of outcomes you desire.

Self-doubt is simply the energy/emotion you feel as a result of the thoughts you think.  And, like everything in this world, they are neither good nor bad until you put a label on them.

Therefore, self-doubt doesn't have to hold you back unless you allow it to!

And with this 5-step process, we're sharing exactly how you can literally turn those feelings of self-doubt into an advantage for yourself.  No more sitting back and thinking that doubt is going to hurt you.  From now on, start thinking of doubt as a resource there to help you!


What is a business leader?


Here’s How Successful Business Leaders Overcome Self-Doubt In 5 Steps


Listen up! Here is the simple 5-step process that top leaders in business use to not just prevent doubt from holding them back, but use it to their advantage.

The process can overall be summarized like this:

  1. Recognize doubt
  2. Change perspective on doubt
  3. Transform doubt
  4. Keep doubt at bay
  5. Embrace doubt

While doubt is a hurdle that literally every leader faces (including even the most successful ones like Reed Hastings of Netflix and Walt Disney), the difference between top leaders and those who never make it out of the gates is that the most successful ones understand how to manage doubt.

This isn't something that they'll teach you in business school... Start here to not let doubt get the best of you AND to get it to start working for you!


1. Great Leaders Stop and Step Back


Let's say that you're using a hammer to try and break open a rock.  After an hour of trying to break it open, you're still not getting anywhere.  In your mind, if you just keep hitting it the same way over-and-over again, you'll eventually crack it.  However, after another hour of trying to break it open, you're still not making any progress.  Instead of assessing the situation and coming up with a new plan, you ignore the fact that your current plan isn't working and continue on as is.

Now... Doesn't that logic sound silly?  If that was really you trying to break open the rock, wouldn't you stop, assess the situation, and then come back with a new plan of attack instead of carrying on like everything is fine when it clearly isn’t?

While your answer is likely yes, would you believe me if I said that many business leaders don't apply that same logic with their own mentality?  

Instead of taking a step back and assessing what's wrong with it, including if self-doubt is present, they carry on as if nothing is wrong thinking that somehow things will get better.  Then, when things don’t get better, they can’t seem to figure out why.

However, that logic obviously makes no sense!

If you want to overcome self-doubt, the first thing you need to do is stop, step back, and assess the state of your mindset.  Continuing on as if nothing is wrong will surely lead to downfall.


Don’t Ignore the Thoughts You Think


You know the saying 'Keep calm and carry on'?   Yeah, it's a bad saying.


Because, you can't just keep calm about and ignore a terrible situation like self-doubt and expect things to still turn out well.

Instead of keeping calm and carrying on, what you need to do is accept the fact that self-doubt is present.  Only once you accept the fact that self-doubt is there can you start to turn it into something that helps instead of hinders you.

When something is clearly wrong... Don't just keep calm and carry on.  Instead, stop, step back, and become aware of the challenge at hand.


Great Leaders Know What Self-Doubt Really Is


When a top-level leader recognizes that self-doubt is present, they remind themself what doubt really is: The accumulation of negative thoughts.

Instead of turning the situation into a bigger deal than what it really is, they remind themself that self-doubt is simply a matter of negative thoughts accumulating in their head.  

When they put doubt in that perspective, they see it as a much simpler issue to tackle than what they initially thought.

From now on, after you recognize that doubt is present, remind yourself that it is merely the accumulation of thoughts in your head.  From that perspective, the issue instantly becomes much easier to manage.


2. Get a Different Lens to Look Through


Everyone has their own unique lens through which they view life.  You can think of a lens as a perspective.

For example, you and your friend can watch the exact same TV series but have two completely different takeaways from it because you both have different perspectives.  On one hand, your friend might have a generally pessimistic perspective, so they view the show as negative and damaging.  On the other hand, you might have a generally optimistic perspective, so you view the show as enlightening. 

That being said, you need to have the right lens to look through when it comes to self-doubt.  Instead of looking at it through a negative lens, such as one of hatred and fear, try looking at it through a positive lens of potential for self-improvement.

Moreover, the lens you look through determines your attitude towards the situation at hand.  And you don't need anyone to tell you that it's always better to have a positive attitude!

At the end of the day, what often separates the much successful business leaders like Bill Gates of Microsoft and Jeff Bezos of Amazon from everyone else is that they see challenges like self-doubt through a better lens than everyone else.

Change your lens to change your perspective to change your attitude towards self-doubt to change your outcomes for the better.


Perspective Frames Your Life


You can live in the most beautiful city, drive the most luxurious vehicle, have the most loving family, and be the best looking person around, yet still feel like your life isn't on target simply because of your perspective.

That being said, after recognizing that self-doubt is present, top leaders actively choose to pick a positive perspective rather than default to a negative one.

Choice, choice, choice!

If you don't choose to have a good perspective, you'll likely default to having a bad one.


Great Leaders Have the Clearest, Broadest Lens


So... What kind of lens do the most infamous business leaders like the co-founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, have to shape their perspective?

It's simple: They have the clearest and broadest lens.

By the clearest lens, we mean one that allows them to clearly interpret what self-doubt really is.

By the broadest lens, we mean one that allows them to zoom out and see a big picture of their journey and the business world.

So whenever they start to feel self-doubt creep up, clarity allows them to see the situation for what it really is (a mere accumulation of negative thoughts) and recognize that it’s just a small blip in their journey (rather than an ultimate demise).


What makes a strong business leader?


3. Transform Your Energy


So... You've taken a step back to recognize that self-doubt is present and actively chosen to see it through a positive lens... Now, the next step is the most important step: You must transform the negative energy of self-doubt into positive energy.

Never forget that, like every other feeling out there, self-doubt is energy created by your thoughts.  And while you can't create or destroy energy, you can transform it into something else.

Therefore, you must actively choose to transform self-doubt that pulls you down into energy that boosts you up, such as excitement.

This is where having self-doubt can play to your advantage: Once you realize that you can harness the energy of self-doubt and put it into a positive outlet, your potential automatically increases.

Feeling self-doubt can be the most positively transformational event of your entire life if you choose for it to be that way!  You have no reason to not use self-doubt to your advantageWhat are you waiting for?


Turn Your Negative Energy Into Positive Energy


As much as you try to destroy self-doubt, it's impossible.  Because, again, self-doubt is energy created by thoughts, and you can't destroy energy.

BUT, you can transform the negative energy of self doubt into positive energy like excitement, amusement, or interest.

How do you transform negative energy into positive energy?

Simple, whenever you begin to feel self-doubt creep up, label the negative energy as some form of positive energy.  By thinking positive thoughts instead of negative thoughts about self-doubt, the energy will inevitably begin to transform itself into a more positive form.

If you find yourself questioning the power of re-labeling self-doubt as something positive, remember the can't fail equation: The thoughts you think create the emotions (energy) you feel, the emotions you feel determine the actions you take, and the actions you take determine your outcomes.

So furthermore, re-labeling your thoughts on self-doubt into more positive ones creates positive energy, which then leads to positive actions and outcomes.

The good news is that if you've already changed your perspective on self-doubt in step 2, re-labeling self-doubt for the purpose of energy transmutation is easy!


Use Adrenaline to Push Yourself Forward


What is the best type of positive energy to transform self-doubt into?  While there are many options, excitement is perhaps the best.


Because, when you feel excited, you feel adrenaline underneath you.  And when you have high adrenaline, you have Elon Musk level motivation to push forward!

Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, has the motivation to keep pushing forward despite challenges because that internal adrenaline flame is always burning.

That being said, do as Musk does by channeling adrenaline and using it as motivational fuel.


4. Preparation, Preparation, Preparation


Here's a question for you... Let's say that you have an exam next week and you have two options... The first one being going to office hours, joining a study group, and setting a reading schedule for the next week to prepare for the test.  The second option is not talking with the professor at all, not collaborating with classmates, and basically winging your studying.

Now... Come the day of the test, under which option do you think you'll feel more self-doubt?

Of course, you'll doubt yourself more if you know you didn't study well.  Sure, you can study hard and still feel some self-doubt, but you'll certainly feel significantly less than if you didn't study at all.

While preparing yourself is an extremely obvious way to manage self-doubt, many CEOs and business owners forget about preparation all together and leave their entire future up to fate. 

Co-founder of Google, Larry Page, once said, 'Lot's of companies don't succeed over time.  What do they fundamentally do wrong? They usually miss the future'.

That being said, don't miss the future yourself by not preparing for it and being overcome with crippling self-doubt.


Study, Study, Study


The most influential business leaders are the ones who are the most prepared.

Whenever there's a challenging situation up ahead, they thoroughly prepare themselves for it by equipping themselves with all the tools and information needed to handle it.

Think of the way that top leaders prepare themselves like this: Imagine that there's a candidate for a job with an upcoming interview.  To prepare for the interview, they study the company inside and out along with the people who will be interviewing them.  On top of that, they think of questions that they could potentially be asked and then come up with answers for them ahead of time.

So moreover, the best leaders are the ones who study the most.  Because the more they study, the more knowledge they gain.  And as long as they know how to combine knowledge and action, doubt cannot run the show.


Don’t Forget to Study Yourself


In the process of studying and preparing, don't forget to study yourself!

Warren Buffett, founder of the infamous Omaha-based Berkshire Hathaway, once said, 'Eat well.  Read books.  Study yourself.  Expand your mind.  Do better and get better.  You are your greatest investment'.

Why study yourself?

Because when you study yourself, you understand yourself.  And when you understand yourself, you know which of your strengths to play on and which of your weaknesses you must work on, including self-doubt.

If your entire business suddenly goes crumbling to the ground but you still have yourself, then there's no reason for you not to be able to succeed.


Who is a good business leader?


5. Embrace the Challenges of the Process


Experiencing self-doubt isn't a problem at all.  In fact, it's actually a plus!

Here's the thing: You can avoid self-doubt to make yourself feel momentarily happy, but being happy doesn't necessarily mean that you're fulfilled.  Because the truth is that, fulfillment comes from embracing both the negatives and the positives of life.

Former Chief Operating Officer of Apple under Steve Jobs and now current Chief Executive Officer, Tim Cook, once said, 'Let your joy be in your journey - not some distant goal'.

The journey is not guaranteed to be easy, make sense, or make you happy all the time.  But, it is guaranteed to make you a better person and feel fulfilled IF you choose to embrace it.

And when you embrace it, you can't just embrace the good.  In fact, you wouldn't even be able to recognize the good if it weren't for the bad!

And in case you missed it... Business success is about your own personal fulfillment too!  If you're miserable doing what you're doing, then not only will you be unfulfilled, but that unfulfillment will manifest in poor business results.

Instead of basing fulfillment on happiness, base it on the process you're going through, because with all it's ups and downs, it is sure to make you and your business better!  And of course, embracing the feelings of self-doubt is a major part of that.


Being ‘Happy’ Isn’t the Goal


It's a great thing to be happy, but it isn't everything.

In fact, if everyone was happy all the time, there would be no such thing as business, because the purpose of business is to help people solve problems so that they feel happier.

Therefore, if you're one of the many leaders whose primary goal is to just be happy, then consider switching it to a more fulfillment-based goal.

Because fulfillment comes from embracing both the good and bad in life, including self-doubt, you will certainly become a more effective person and leader.

Being happy is good, but not everything.  The real gold mine is in fulfillment.


Commit to Continuous Improvement


Choosing to overcome self-doubt is not a one-and-done sort of deal.  Rather, you need to make a commitment to continuously choose to confront self-doubt and use it to your advantage.

Sure... Over time as you grow as a leader, you may experience less doubt on a day-to-day basis.  But, it will surely come and pop it's head out every once in a while, so you must be ready to smash it.

Bottom line: In order to not let doubt overcome you both now and in the future, commit yourself to always be ready to attack it.  And when it does come around (as it surely will), be on your toes with the tools you need to turn it into something positive!


Final Thoughts on How to Overcome Self Doubt as a Business Leader


Forget what you see on social media or read in books... Every influential leader in the world has experienced self-doubt at least once in their career.

In fact, self-doubt is often the catalyst they used to become so dominant in business!

Regardless of how superhuman someone may look, there is not a single leader who has never felt self-doubt creep up on them.  Why?  Because it's simple human nature that nobody is immune from.

That being said, with this 5-step guide, there's no more excuses to not tackle your own self-doubts and use them to your advantage.

Remember, if you're going to try and silence your doubters, be sure to silence the most important one of all... the one inside your own head.  It's the only way to reach your full potential!


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