Occupational Psychologist, coach and teacher, Dr Anna Kane joins us to talk about her fascinating research into self-confidence at work.
Hi, thanks for speaking with us today, it would be great if you could start by telling us a little bit about your research, and what it was that made you want to explore this area?
I’ve just completed my PhD in Business and Occupational Psychology at Kingston University, where I researched self-confidence at work.
My interest in self-confidence started when I was an A level psychology student and I was stumped as to why there was no theory or satisfactory definition of self-confidence. I recognised there were related theories such as self-esteem and self-efficacy, but to me these were not the full picture of self-confidence.
Zoom forward a few years to me working as a Chartered Occupational Psychologist, undertaking a long-term project assessing individuals applying for a promotion and giving feedback. It struck me how many people talked about their lack of self-confidence, not knowing how to address it and how it impacted their career progression.
My work evolved, and I now do a lot of coaching, particularly in self-confidence, using mindfulness and self-compassion, both as a tool and a philosophical underpinning. I love to review the evidence-base, so I studied a Post Graduate Diploma in mindfulness and self-compassion, this really opened up my understanding and thinking.
All of this led me to my PhD, where I reviewed the existing literature, and then went on to develop a dynamic model of authentic self-confidence.
Were there any surprises?
I kind of wish there were some surprises. 25 years after my initial observations as an A level student, I found there still is no substantial body of research on self-confidence and no agreed definition of what it is. Self-efficacy and self-esteem are still the closest concepts available to us.
Self-efficacy is your belief in your ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.
Self-esteem is your tendency to evaluate yourself positively or negatively.
Many researchers use these two separate terms interchangeably with self-confidence. It brings to mind that lovely Einstein quote,
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
If we use the wrong concept to judge that someone lacks confidence, then there’s a risk they spend their life fulfilling that belief, when a more relevant definition might help people to findtheir confidence.
When I conducted my research to understand what confidence is, it was important that I included a diverse range of participants, so that the model feels relevant to all. For example, when it came to gender, I included men, women, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. About 1 in 250 people define themselves as non-binary, or gender non-conforming and so it’s important to ensure the gender spectrum is reflected in our research. The younger generations tend to be more fluid about their gender identification, and they’re the future of our workplaces, so it’s essential the theories we’re generating today reflect this.
So, what can business leaders learn from this?
Whilst there are some unresolved issues around definitions, research shows that enhanced self-confidence brings many benefits to the workplace.
Leaders may be unaware that developing their own confidence encourages a transformational leadership style, which in turn means they’re more likely to create working conditions that reduce bullying.
Leaders may also be interested to learn, that investing in developing self-confidence in their teams brings benefits such as a significant improvement in performance, reduced turnover, increased innovation, better learning and knowledge transfer and more.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that self-confidence doesn’t exist in a vacuum, so if there is a requirement for confidence building within your organisation, it should be part of a bigger conversation. Let’s say many women in an organisation are asking for help with developing their confidence – it doesn’t make sense to send them off to a training course and ignore the social context within which they are working.
The behaviour of leaders and colleagues can sometimes be bound up with certain groups experiencing a lack of confidence. It therefore might make sense to train leaders in how to support and develop teams of confident individuals, as well as investing in development for the individuals.
How does this work within the complexities of an organisation?
I frequently coach leaders to develop their self-confidence. Many people assume I mainly work with women, but actually a lot of men come to me for coaching too. Interestingly they tend to be members of under-represented leadership groups such as the LGBTQ community. Like any psychologist, I take steps to measure key aspects before and after working with an individual. My approach always sees an improvement in levels of confidence, both in terms of what’s measured, but also how individuals feel. In turn, these leaders have seen how developing their confidence has positively impacted their teams.
One leader I worked with consistently preached a good work-life balance to his team yet felt the need to be working long hours himself. Once he had developed his confidence more, he felt able to work more reasonable hours and cut out unnecessary desk time. Once he confidently demonstrated his true commitment to a healthy work-life balance to his team, they then followed his lead. It’s contagious!
And what can we take from this as individuals?
Everyone I spoke to during my research found the topic fascinating. It speaks to equality, diversity and inclusion. It enables wellbeing. It enhances leadership and team membership. We can all learn something about our own confidence and how we can create the conditions for authentic confidence that is sustainable and real. By understanding how confidence works we can start to manage it more effectively, rather than letting our level of confidence determine how successful our careers are going to be – or not be.
If you had some golden nuggets to help people develop authentic confidence, what would they be?
- Be clear about where your skills and knowledge sit; utilise and develop them and ask for feedback on them.
- Be yourself, there’s no point trying to be someone else and it’s a huge drain on our personal resource.
- Connect with others; developing your social capital is a great investment.
Dr Anna Kane will be presenting at the BPS Division of Occupational Psychology Conference on 9th January and will also be running a webinar on developing personal Authentic Confidence on 15th January. You can also contact her directly by email firstname.lastname@example.org