Confident Leaders Make The Move

Confidence is a belief that you can succeed at something and will demonstrate it by taking action. When you are confident, you will take more risks because you believe in your talents and abilities to get the desired results. For instance, if I am confident that I can speak well in front of large groups, I will act upon that confidence and do so. I’ll accept the keynote speaking engagement for the spring conference or volunteer to MC the awards dinner, confident in my potential to perform well. In contrast, if I lack confidence in public speaking, I will either avoid the podium at all cost or I will make excuses to explain my dismal failure in front of the microphone. In other words, because of my low confidence, I find ways to soften, or control, my inevitable fall.

The irony of confidence is that it can only develop in the realms of fear and the unknown, two dynamics that basic human nature works hard to avoid. Confidence grows when you take action and attempt challenges that are difficult and fearful, when you recognize a purpose and venture outside your comfort zone to accomplish it.

As a gymnast myself and an NCAA Women’s Gymnastics coach, I (Ed) observed courageous confidence, and the lack of it, in many young athletes. In the sport of men’s gymnastics, the high bar is a very intimidating event because of its high level of danger. One particular move on high bar is called a Kovac, a flying backflip above a nine-foot high apparatus. The gymnast lets go of the bar, does a backflip over the top and then re-grabs the bar on the way down. The risk of injury is huge.

To make the move, the gymnast needs to add power, release longer, and go higher, but when young athletes lack confidence in accomplishing the move, they try to control their fall by releasing too quickly and not adding enough power. They think that if they don’t go as high, they won’t get hurt as badly if they miss the re-grab on the way back down. This puts the gymnast out of position and inevitably results in a fall, occasionally resulting in a trip to the emergency room. The vision of the potential damage takes on greater meaning than the accomplishment of the move, at which point the goal becomes to control one’s fall.

One time I was coaching a young girl who asked me to spot her on a scary dismount on the women’s uneven bars. I noticed that she was dragging a six-inch pad to help cushion the already existing four-inch pad under the high bar.

“What’s that for?” I asked her.

She looked at me with fear in her eyes and replied, “What if I fall?”

I instantly recognized her lack of confidence. She was focused on the consequences of crashing, not the exhilaration of making the necessary moves to be successful.

“Well,” I answered, “what if you do the series of events that it takes to make the move, what do you think will happen? Do you think that you will need the crash pad?”

She responded, “I’ll make the move.”

“Then just do that instead,” I encouraged. But she was unwilling to attempt the move without the extra crash pads.

So on this particular day, I sent her to the locker room and told her that once she was ready to make the move, I would spot her.

You see, when a person lacks confidence, she will put more focus into controlling the fall than in making the move. Her fear will cause her to put “crash pads” in place… just in case. But controlling the fall will never produce the same success, the exhilaration and self-fulfillment as making the move to pursue and overcome an intimidating task. Both require effort, but only one will actually make the move and help build confidence. Only doing the full series of events it takes to make the move will actually make the move.  Anything less, and you are controlling the fall, so you put crash pads under yourself for damage control… just in case.  

Leaders telegraph if they’re focused on making the move or controlling the fall whether they know it or not. They reveal their mindset in the questions they ask, the degree to which they trust enough to delegate, the emotional responses to challenges, or perhaps implementing excessive policies and processes to circumvent a perceived lack of competence or character in people.  This doesn’t change the truth that only doing what it takes to make the move actually makes the move.  Leaders who lack confidence end up controlling the fall, until they are ultimately met with the reality that a person doesn’t really control the fall.  Forces like gravity always win in the absence of making the move.