Home Applications Executive Coaching The Silent Self-Doubt of Powerful Performers

The Silent Self-Doubt of Powerful Performers

6 min read

Executive leadership today is not about having all the answers: it’s about inspiring your teams of talented high achievers to create the answers. What this VP is not seeing is that his biggest contribution as a leader is in leading a team to commit to a vision and facilitating the conversations that the team needs to have to create strategies and execute on that vision. A key part of his job is to coach and develop people so they have the courage to speak their ideas and the skill to carry them out.


High achievers who don’t address self-doubt thoroughly—whenever and wherever it occurs—risk their performance, their health and their well-being.

When self-confidence starts to drop, leaders subtly (and often unconsciously) shift their behavior: they pull back on contributing or, paradoxically, they go into overdrive and start working longer hours. Like the financial services VP, you may find yourself becoming more tentative in meetings, holding back your ideas and suggestions, or avoiding controversy. This is all very subtle at first—barely noticeable—but you feel the stress. Unfortunately, in competitive environments, either of these strategies (pull back or work harder) may have you heading straight for executive burnout, being marginalized, or even being terminated.

Sometimes executives try to achieve a better balance by hiding their doubts under a mask of false confidence. To all appearances, they’ve got it all together. Yet they assert themselves a little too strongly and try a little too hard to prove themselves. Underneath this, a prevailing sense that they’re “not enough” drives them. The result is a usually negative impact on their leadership. Others can interpret this behavior, this false bravado, as slightly ‘edgy’ or ‘arrogant’. Some people tend to respond to this by withdrawing their trust.

Over time, any of these behaviors (pull back, work harder, hide out under false confidence) negatively influence your ability to deliver the impact needed at the VP or C level. The joy of facing challenges and creating innovative solutions fades when you’re trying to survive the day with your image as a leader intact. Overwork is a constant danger. A subtle, low-grade anxiety lingers in the background. Unfortunately, none of this goes unnoticed for long.


We can successfully avoid dealing with self-doubt for a while. However, when I coach senior executives, we look at the potential downstream impact of hidden self-doubt.

Most senior executives that I work with have come to realize that, in today’s market, there is no job security at VP level and above. This is not a reflection on you. This is how the game is played.

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