https://civilservice.blog.gov.uk/2015/06/30/confidence-in-leaders/

Confidence in leaders

Keith Mackiggan, Deputy Director, UN and Commonwealth, DFID
Keith Mackiggan, Deputy Director, UN and Commonwealth, DFID

Hi! My name’s Keith. I’m 43 and I’ve recently ‘come out’ as somebody who lacks self-confidence. In contrast, I’ve been ‘out’ about being gay for 20-odd years. Strange, isn’t it, that admitting a lack of self-confidence should be so difficult?

I recently talked about this at a Leadership Statement roadshow event (it wasn’t quite as good as the Radio 1 roadshows I remember from my youth, but it was still great!). And the feedback I got from participants encouraged me to write this blog. So many people seemed to recognise what I was saying, that I thought it was worth sharing more widely.

My own leadership journey has been a long and winding one. I joined the Civil Service in 1997, in what was then HM Customs and Excise. I moved to the Department for International Development (DFID) in 2000, where I’ve been, on and off, ever since.

Recurrent theme

I’ve managed a lot of different and diverse teams over the years, and I’ve lost count of the number of things I’ve tried to increase my self-confidence! So, let me just mention a few of them.

One recurrent theme has been trying to deal with lack of self-confidence by going on training courses.

Now, courses can be really useful. One in particular stands out. It was a 2-week residential course, including over a weekend (you can tell how desperate I was to deal with my confidence issue!). It was with peers from other sectors, and was designed for specialists who were taking up general management posts. The course was designed to ‘break you down’ in order to ‘build you back up’ again. It certainly broke us down! Literally. I think it was during the middle weekend that I shed my first tear. And, to give it its dues, it did ‘build me back up’ again. It helped, and my confidence increased.

I’ve also tried to deal with it by thrusting myself into new and challenging environments. I’ve moved about a lot with DFID, and gone on secondments inside and outside government. The ultimate, though, was probably taking the post of lead civilian heading up the joint UK/US reconstruction effort in Basra, southern Iraq, in 2008/09. The environment was hostile, the politics were difficult (to say the least) and bridging the civilian-military cultural divide wasn’t easy either. Again, demonstrating to myself that I could operate effectively in that environment did help. My confidence increased.

Keith Mackiggan speaking at the Leadership Statement Roadshow in East Kilbride
Keith Mackiggan speaking at the Leadership Statement Roadshow in East Kilbride

Confidence matters

Why am I telling you all this? Three reasons.

First, confidence matters. It matters to leadership. You’ll know that from your own experience of being led. Believing in your leaders is crucial to good followership. And it matters to your own wellbeing. I once lost 6 kilograms in as many weeks, due to confidence-related stress. That’s not healthy, and it’s not an experience I want to repeat.

Secondly, regardless of all the courses I’ve been on and all the challenges I’ve set myself, I’ve found the single most effective thing that’s increased my confidence has been being open about it! Since I ‘came out’ and started talking more openly about my lack of self-confidence, I’ve found new ways to think about things – ways that actually make me feel much more confident. I’ve realised that I should stop focusing so much on the things others are better at than me, start focusing on the things I’m naturally good at, really deploy those strengths to the max, and get my team to help fill the gaps, which is empowering for them, too.

So, it is possible to grow your confidence, and quite quickly, too.

The third reason I’m telling you all this is because, the more people I’ve been open with, the more I’ve realised I’m not alone. So, if you’re one of those people who has impostor syndrome, or kicks yourself when somebody else in a meeting asks a question you wanted to ask (but didn’t because you thought it might make you look silly) and then they get lots of praise and nods around the room for the question – take heart! In my experience, you really can break the cycle. As the old BT advert used to say, ‘it’s good to talk’…

77 comments

  1. Comment by M posted on

    Keith, this is really moving. I like to hear when people are sharing a bit of 'Daring Greatly' by Brene Brown, I wish I could do the same. I really admire the huge confidence it must have took you.

    • Replies to M>

      Comment by Stuart posted on

      Keith, I would never have guessed you lacked self confidence and thanks for sharing this. I have been trying to build on my own self confidence for many years and public speaking in a larger group remains an issue. Sometimes its great other times it isn't. I think its just about believing in yourself- which is often easier said than done. But you have demonstrated that it doesnt need to hold you back in terms of a career. There may be some hope left for me. Thanks again and to all the people who have posted.

    • Replies to M>

      Comment by Emma McGrath posted on

      Good for you Keith- But I have to say I never saw you as someone lacking confidence! I agree peope can judge others too quickly in the workplace before they actually know who you are and what your background is . Keep up your great work because you bring a smile to my face when your down in Whitehall.

  2. Comment by Kate Silver posted on

    Hi Keith. I think this is one of the most powerful blogs. It is so refreshing to see someone being so open about the things they find hard. We all things we are great at and things we needs help to do. Great leaders know these gaps and build great teams around them to fill them. I have a fantastic team who fill my gaps (seeing things through and not getting carried away with the positives) and I bet you do too. Thank you.

  3. Comment by Caroline posted on

    Excellent Keith, I listened to a session today in our workplace about refurbishment and what a presenter, covered all areas and facts! Lead by example...insightful article

  4. Comment by Ross posted on

    Thank you Keith. Your story mirrors mine step by step although in different places. Even the two week residential course I hd with the Kings Fund.

  5. Comment by Roger posted on

    Good to see you mention "followership". That's what most of us do, most of the time; that's what gets the job done.

  6. Comment by Sandy Osbourn posted on

    So true, I went to an 'Empowering Women' which was a seminar of successful and high ranking management etc. A speaker asked us to be brave and put our hands up if we felt like we were frauds and someone would find out very soon we didn't have a clue about what we were doing. The hand show was slow at first then when finished over 80% of hands were up. I have subsequently had this conversation with many managers etc. who all smile knowingly when I talk about it.

  7. Comment by Debs posted on

    There is always so much expectation to deliver nowadays. You have demonstrated that you have moved out of your comfort zone and found your magic.

  8. Comment by Claire Hobson posted on

    Great post. Check out Amy Cuddy on Youtube TED talks - fake it till you make it. Great boost.

    • Replies to Claire Hobson>

      Comment by Claire Taylor posted on

      I love the TED talks, something for everyone and every situation. The Amy Cuddy one is great, and one I have used myself at a recent conference, with great success. Fake it til you beleive it!!!

  9. Comment by Debbie posted on

    Hi Keith - thanks for this. I've personally found that a really interesting read, great to hear about your journey.

  10. Comment by Jill posted on

    Hi Keith, I can really identify with this, especially your third reason and the 'silly question' scenario!
    It's good to know that I am not alone.
    Your blog has inspired me to open up about my confidence issues and that can only be a good thing. Thankyou.

  11. Comment by Julia Rabbitts posted on

    I so recognise the "imposter" syndorme, that feeling that clearly everyone else is getting it and not seeing the problem I see so it must be me, not that actually I have spotted something that others didn't because I'm good.
    Thank you for being open and for passing on some excellent advice.

    • Replies to Julia Rabbitts>

      Comment by Dave posted on

      I've never heard of Imposter Syndrome, but thought that it probably corresponds to how I feel a lot of the time - that I really shouldn't be a manager or doing a responsible job, I must have been promoted by accident and that it's only a matter of time before I get found out, then I'll lose my job or get demoted back to the grade I deserve etc etc. Or is that just me

      • Replies to Dave>

        Comment by Michael posted on

        We don't all have to be managers to feel the same, particularly those who have taken jobs outside previous subject matter and away from previous area and with a different system of contacts. I am 2 years into my present job and I still find myself asking 'What am I doing here?' Impostor Syndrome - I think you have given my feelings a name.

        • Replies to Michael>

          Comment by Gill posted on

          I'm in exactly the same position - a promotion into an area that is completely new to me. I keep waiting for the tap on my shoulder telling me they made a mistake! I'm glad to know I'm not the only "imposter".

  12. Comment by Debbie posted on

    Thanks for sharing your experience Keith - it is so powerful to hear about your journey and some of the strategies that have worked for you.

  13. Comment by Ken posted on

    Thank you so much for this. The point that resonated with me was being open about "issues". My own lack of self confidence and low self esteem went hand in hand with low level underlying mental illness. I would suggest that, like Keith, anybody reading this might like to give careful thought about to whom they should speak when it comes to anything along these lines that is affecting them.

  14. Comment by Chris posted on

    Thanks Keith....
    Its a comfort to know I am not the only one !!... Public speaking is what really freaks me out... I don't think I will ever find a remedy for that..

  15. Comment by Alison posted on

    An excellent well written and thoughtful blog. I can have a lack of confidence at times and it seems as if when I get some confidence then something happens to knock it back. I guess confidence comes from within and from experience.

  16. Comment by Nicki posted on

    What a change to have an article where the person admits they have failings and how they have tried to overcome them. I would like to see more articles like this rather than the more dry and less personal features.

  17. Comment by Helen P posted on

    I've never heard of imposter syndrome but I've suffered from it all my life. So reassuring to know I'm not alone. And look at you standing up and talking to a group of people without being physically sick. Well done.

  18. Comment by Yazmina Bryant posted on

    Thanks Keith for sharing this. Can we get some of this training here at the HSE Bootle? I would go...

  19. Comment by Hannah posted on

    Hi Keith, Thank you for your honesty and a very encouraging article- one I'd never thought I'd read! You're certainly not alone.

  20. Comment by Daniel posted on

    Thanks for sharing Keith - a really good blog. I think you hit the nail on the head - by being authentic and open you empower both yourself and your team to deliver better results...which in turn boosts confidence. A virtuous cycle!

  21. Comment by Tom posted on

    Self-confidence in a leader can be useful, but when they become so self-confident that they ignore the views of those around them who have so much more experience and knowledge on the topic than they do, then it can become a serious problem, which undermines the organisation.

  22. Comment by Dee posted on

    Well, done you - I wish you continued success. Having had a successfull civil service career for 30+ years, performing at a high level I lost confidence following a period working with a destructive, undermining manager. The whole experience affected my health and career. It was difficult to recognise what had happened and like you talk about it. After a period of feeling totally worthless I realised I needed to recognise all of the skills and strengths I held. I have continued to build on these and finally feel more empowered. This has been reflected in the success of my team and the support I can now offer to less experienced collegues.

  23. Comment by Claire posted on

    I always thought it was just me, everyone else always seemed so confident and knowledgeable I felt sure I would be caught out at some point and yet I never was. A manager recently pointed out to me that the reason this had never happened was perhaps because I knew alot more than I gave myself credit for and that if fact many people feel the same. So thank you for this insightful blog post as it it further reinforces my managers point that I am not alone in feeling this way, and this in turn is pushing me to look at myself in a different way and feel more confident.

  24. Comment by John posted on

    Great article.
    I've struggled with confidence issues since joining front of house operations at a large jobcentre. Closure of successive departments led me to work in a customer facing environment, which was very much outside my comfort zone.
    I have however been more than lucky in having fantastically supportive line managers over the last couple of years. They have tried their utmost to support me. As Keith says ‘it’s good to talk’… discussing my problems certainly helped , and although the underlying problems still exist, I feel now that I'm making a good contribution to the day to day running of the office, and utilising the skills I've picked up over the last 20 odd years.
    Don't be afraid to talk about your problems...you'll be suprised how many people there are out there who feel the same way.
    Keep up the good work Keith.

  25. Comment by Androulla posted on

    Hi great article. what was the two week course you went on ? thanks

  26. Comment by Lizzie posted on

    Nice to know that I am not alone!

    However sometimes things that happen at work can and do lower your self confidence and self esteem!

    But well done on speaking out on this common but unspoken issue!

  27. Comment by Emma posted on

    I can really identify with what you are saying and thank you for being open about your personal experiences it has been really inspiring!

    • Replies to Emma>

      Comment by Su posted on

      I'm absolutely amazed by the response to your blog Keith. I've suffered with low self-esteem for years and never realised there were so many of us out there! I'm not a manager, but it's still had a huge impact on my life. But I would still think very carefully about who I talked to about it. I know too many people who would take the 'get a grip' attitude 🙁

  28. Comment by A Shaw posted on

    One of the best ways to encourage confidence to to stop bullying.

    My career in the Civil Service has been all but destroyed by bullying, it led to a complete mental breakdown and has had far reaching consequences for both my personal life and my ability to cope in the workplace. I'm still on the difficult journey of rebuilding my life, I have no hopes left for my career. The bullies have never been called to answer for their actions. Sometimes the injustice of that is hard to live with.

    Building confidence is important and I applaud you speaking out this way. But it's only one half of the coin and, until we take bullying seriously, able, competent people will continue to suffer.

    There are no winners when we fail to help others achieve their best. But continuing to strive to give that best is always worthwhile. I had confidence, like you, I didn't come by it easily, but the struggle to find it was rewarding in so many ways.

    The struggle to rebuild it after years of working both with and for people who saw fit to dismantle it, for reasons I still can't understand, is a personal triumph. So if you're reading this and can help someone else attain their potential; do. And, if you're not doing that, then ask yourself why not.

    Bullying doesn't weed the wheat from the chaff, or the able from the less gifted, it simply crushes potential, destroys lives and diminishes all of us.

    • Replies to A Shaw>

      Comment by Mike H posted on

      Staff survey results have consistently flagged up bullying as an issue. This was at 10% for the last two years - and from memory has been about the same for much longer. All staff need training on how to challenge this effectively, particularly managers.

      From personal experience I found there was no support within my department, apart from one colleague who raised the issue with a senior manager on my behalf. The senior manager spoke to the 'bully' but there was no follow up with me to find out if things had improved. My self confidence became completely eroded, to the extent that picking a tie to wear was a difficult decision, and this mental state prevented me from taking out a grievance against the person concerned.

      I was very fortunate in that outside work I had a supportive network of family and friends who got me through the difficult times. Tim Field's book 'Bully In Sight' was also helpful in confirming that what I was experiencing was bullying and not me being useless at my job, which was how I was made to feel. In the end I moved to a different team and eventually to another department but several years on I still doubt my own abilities from time to time.

      Activities outside work have helped increase my confidence around speaking in public. These include joining a club/society and being on the committees where views can be openly expressed without fear, even when others may disagree!

      • Replies to Mike H>

        Comment by Survivor posted on

        I've been faking it for as long as I can remember, and am so good at it that no-one believes me when I try to talk about my self-esteem issues and the fact that I am actually quite shy. Only a strict routine gets me out of the door in the morning.

        Unfortunately, someone who did believe me chose to take advantage of the fact and used it for the basis of a calculated campaign of workplace bullying that resulted in my complete emotional collapse. The horror of reacting like a cornered animal in front of friends and colleagues, and the shock at the visciousness of my feelings for this individual, will stay with me forever.

        My self-esteem plummeted lower than ever, to the point that I doubted myself in even the most basic of decisions. Several years later I am much better, but my self-esteem is still a fragile thing, and I can't bring myself to apply for promotions that others say I could do standing on my head. It's not that I doubt what I can do - but that I can't risk "rejection" in case all my carefully constructed building blocks come tumbling down around me.

        And what happened to the bully? Well, nothing, as far as I can see. Because they deserve their confidentiality, apparently. So whilst I crumbled in the most public and humiliating way possible, any consequences the bully faced are dealt with discreetly.

        It's long past time to stamp out bullying in the Civil Service.

  29. Comment by Annabel posted on

    Thank you Keith. This chimes with my own personal experience of the incredible gains to be made when being more open about personal challenges. It is inspiring that you have not let your confidence issues stop you from advancing at work. I think for so many genuinely talented people (and especially women) this lack of self-confidence really holds them back. I hope your story reaches them.

  30. Comment by Joanne Canning posted on

    Lovely to read about such an inspiring experience! It has left me wondering just what HMRC are missing out on from shy staff who could give the workplace so much if they were encouraged out of their shells at little bit more.

    • Replies to Joanne Canning>

      Comment by David posted on

      I agree. Susan Cain's book "Quiet" is worth a read for the 30% or so of us who are uncomfortable about being in the spotlight, working in totally open plan offices etc.

  31. Comment by Ember posted on

    Keith,

    Thanks for discussing your self-confidence issues. Ironically, by discussing it you have shown confidence; it's difficult to put yourself out there to be judged. From the comments, it looks like you are already helping a few people who are going through the same kind of feelings as you are.

    I don't know if you have access to http://www.TED.com where you work. There is a video on there by Amy Cuddy that you might find interesting. She suffered from self-esteem issues and received some advice which helped her. The talk's only about 10 minutes long and can be found via http://www.ted.com/playlists/77/11_must_see_ted_talks.

    Best wishes for the future.

    • Replies to Ember>

      Comment by David posted on

      I watched this video a few months ago and it's very moving. It's also strangely comforting to know that someone who looks and sounds so confident has had the same self doubt as a lot of us.

  32. Comment by keith mackiggan posted on

    Wow! I never thought about getting any responses when I wrote my blog - so all your comments are an amazing and totally unexpected windfall! Thanks for all the comments, I feel really buoyed-up by them. I hope you all take some comfort from the number of people who lack self-confidence. And please all share stories of how you've improved your confidence, too.

  33. Comment by Vicky posted on

    Thanks Keith, what a refreshingly open blog. I can certainly identify with some of the things you mention. Good to know we're not alone in moments of self doubt.

  34. Comment by Yasmin Carpenter posted on

    Keith, thank you for this. It is indeed comforting to know that many people struggle with lack of self-confidence in all its forms. Personally, I do not usually doubt myself in terms of what I'm capable of. However, I have the hardest time communicating my thoughts which ends up in me not being able to reach my potential. Public speaking - even to small groups - freaks me out and stops me from doing a lot of things I would like to, which is ultimately very frustrating.

    I noticed that while I was very confident and daring in school, I took a much 'safer' stand as I grew up, finding myself more and more introverted and afraid to speak up - even though I have a lot I want to say and share.

    Knowing this for quite a few years now, I try to investigate what are the reasons behind my insecurity, as well as what works to make me a little bit more open or confident. I've learned a lot about myself, and it makes it easier for me not to look down upon myself.

    I came to understand that trusting my 'audience' is a very important step in overcoming my fear of speaking. And by that I mean knowing that even if I mess up they will be supportive and accepting of my effort. If that is not the case all I can try to do is give my best, and, if I mess up, 'reject the rejection' and move on.

    I remember two moments in which I was very proud of myself for doing my best, even when it certainly wasn't the best my audience had seen. I was in a band for a brief period in my high school years, and we were going to play at the school's festival. I was the singer and I remember feeling terrified once I got on the stage; they took away the microphone stand (which was literally and figuratively the support I was counting with), I could not hear my own voice, and the theater was crowded. I remember I almost felt like crying when I made the decision to work it out and do all I could. I wasn't great, my band wasn't great, we weren't effusively applauded but I left the stage beyond happy with myself for overcoming my fear. I 'rejected the rejection' and was nowhere near ashamed for our poor performance, because I had done all I could. Also, in my last year of school I put together a letter for the school principle regarding some demands of our class, which I knew was very much needed. I was very confident in how well-written it was but I was very afraid of not making anything out of it because I was too scared to share it, but I did. I vividly remember reading it in front of the entire classroom (in which I had only a couple friends) and being so evidently nervous (to the point my voice was shaking) that I could overhear some of my colleagues whispering about it and that the teacher kindly asked me if I wanted her to read the letter. Tempted to say yes, I said no and kept on reading, because I knew how important it was for me to do it. This time I was applauded and praised for my work. These little victories give me much strength until this day.

    Sorry for the enormous comment. I just wanted to say that I still struggle with public-speaking and that I still miss a lot on what I can do because of it. Nonetheless I always remember not to be too hard on myself as it only makes self-confidence more difficult to be achieved. Lastly, I want to reinforce what you said, Keith. Speaking about your insecurity is a great way to overcome it, or at least to build a more supportive environment around you. I'm a strong believer that, when you are sincere to the point of being transparent about something, which is when you put yourself in the most vulnerable position there is, that's when people recognize 'humanity' in you, put their walls down and are empathetic with you.

    If you've got to the end of this, thanks. I hope my bit of sincerity can help you in some way.

  35. Comment by Julie H posted on

    This strikes a chord with me also. Unfortunately, in a lot of places it is a 'one size fits all approach' with the emphasis being on opinionated, judgemental and absolute - therefore if you're a more reflective or introverted character, it is seen as a negative and often assumed that you lack confidence (forgetting that empty vessels etc.....). One of the reasons I decided to become a professional development coach was because I had been so held back throughout my career because my lack of confidence, so I wanted to make a difference for people who felt like me. We all have something valuable to add, so remember there are plenty of people about who feel the same as us - and it helps to talk!!

  36. Comment by Jenny posted on

    It is so good to have read your blog, totally inspiring and I really admire your honest - we need more of that from our senior leaders! Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone is terrifying but a great way to develop and prove to yourself that you can do it! Thank you for a great read!

  37. Comment by Ali Forder posted on

    Thanks so much for your lovely, open, honest blog which so many people (including me!) can relate to and get hope, reassurance and inspiration from Thank you Keith. Ali

  38. Comment by Alison posted on

    I just wanted to echo what all these other comments are saying - fantastic blog post. It makes me feel like perhaps I can improve my self-confidence, I was beginning to feel like a lost cause. Thank you for sharing.

  39. Comment by Harish Dutt posted on

    This is my first comments to blog ever, so I assume this might be a start . I have dyslexia which causes clumsy statements that I worry they may get misunderstood and therefore I don’t comments. I face same issues in meetings and job interviews ! your blog has made me things differently and I feel I might be able to do better interaction with others not only being open about dyslexia but also focusing in what I am good at. Thank you

  40. Comment by Chris posted on

    The fact that there are so many responses to this blog is almost as encouraging as the blog itself. It really will be a help knowing that I am very far from alone in feeling these anxieties. I recognise almost everything you write about - 'imposter syndrome' particularly.

  41. Comment by Andy posted on

    I am another one leaving my very first comment to a blog. Its great to know I am not the only one that relates to what you have written. A great article!

  42. Comment by Maryam posted on

    Fabulous blog Keith. My lightbulb moment recently on this was reading this interview with Miriam Gonzalez and the line "With self-confidence, I think, if you don’t have it, you have to fake it. But self-confidence is the product of your experience. At the end of the day, the more you do something, the more confident you are"
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/mar/21/miriam-gonzalez-durantez-interview-nick-clegg

  43. Comment by Susan posted on

    A colleague sent the link to me for this article, title given "an interesting article". I knew exactly why they had sent it to me!. Thank you for sharing your confidence journey . It was a brave blog to write write.

  44. Comment by Nicholas Reynolds posted on

    I can strongly relate to what you have described. I've just finished the Maximising Individual Effectiveness couse which is focused around Emotional Intelligence. I'd recommend it to anybody, but it is helpful for confidence building (me for one). It also deals with openess and sharing your feelings in a productive way. Highly recommended!

  45. Comment by Neil posted on

    Hi Keith,

    many thanks for your blog (and the many people who have replied). I have lacked confidence for a very long time and it has severely limited me (I'm amazed someone lacking confidence can even progress their career!).

    A number of the comments really resonate with me and just knowing that there are other people like me out there and, even more importantly, can progress in their career is inspirational to me; thank you all.

    I have recently been on a similar course to the one Keith talks about (it wasn't quite so intense though) and I feel bouyed and ready to challenge myself because of it.

  46. Comment by Ruth Ashton-Ward posted on

    thankyou Keith for being so open about sharing this. I too suffer from 'imposter syndrome' and it can be crippling at times. I think it is very important that you mentioned that we need to stop looking at our weaknesses and instead look at what we are good at - our strengths, and spend our time and energy improving on them and deployhing them as that is what will lead to a more whole person and better employee. The CS really needs to take note of this VERY important but oft overlooked obvious point and give us empowerment by letting us develop what we are good at, not constantly focus on what we aren't good at! Kudos to you my friend for 'coming out'!!

  47. Comment by Lucy posted on

    This article was brilliant. I've had 3 very different jobs since joining the Civil Service after Uni. I worked with the public for a year and a half on front line operations and my confidence really soared. I was a quivering wreck in the first few weeks and incredibly aware of how academic life hadn't exactly prepared me for the practical working world! After a few weeks and being taken under the wings of some experienced colleagues, I came to realise that we are all just people. And it's better to be open about what you don't know, as much as it is about what you do know. I was able to really engage with the public and help some really vulnerable people through their problems and this is something I am immensely proud of. I left that job feeling accomplished and confident in myself as a valuable member of the team. I then went to work in a Private Office and this was all stripped away steadily over time. The senior management team were excellent at making decisions without consultations, belittling people with poorly thought out communications and believing in their own air of self importance - it was such a disappointing environment to be in and really showed me how not to instill confidence and motivation in people, in turn shaping my thoughts about what leadership really looks like. Throughout my time there it became a huge battle for me to hold onto the confidence. I'd be lying if I said I was the same confident person that left front line Ops because I'm not and I do feel very regretful about this. I struggle to really put myself out now and contribute my view because of this overwhelming feeling that it isn't respected, listened to or important enough. I've recently started a new placement and these issues still prevail. It's amazing that a negative experience can so heavily influence your thinking. Throughout this though, I have developed a thick skin and this is perhaps the one saving grace. I'm still desperately trying to cling to the person that's been promoted 3 times in the last 2 years and talk myself into believing I'm still a confident person, but in the work place, this is now much harder to do. I see my real job now not just being my objectives or daily tasks, but equally as importantly, building myself back up and learning to believe in myself again.

    I really respect anyone that can speak out about these issues - they are all around us and far too many at the 'top' bury their heads in the sand and bull doze over capable staff members that hang back... not realising that this isn't always a conscious choice. Thank you for sharing this and giving me the reassurance that I'm not alone in struggling with these sorts of feelings and thoughts.

  48. Comment by Nicole posted on

    Thank you for this blog - good to see that we're all just human.

  49. Comment by Alison Cole posted on

    Thanks for sharing this Keith. Above all, it shows your authenticity and as a fellow Imposter Syndrome sufferer, it's good to hear you reinforce the idea of focussing on our strengths. Others have mentioned about confidence coming from within but we also need colleagues, managers and mentors to be supportive, constructive,offer clear direction to help our development and recognise the value that introverts can bring to leadership, as much as extroverts.

    Best wishes for your next steps.

  50. Comment by Fiona posted on

    Loved this blog Keith. I have to say that I didn't take you for someone who lacked confidence - you are very good at maintaining that facade. I hope 'coming out' will make it easier for you to admit when you're unsure or needing some support. 🙂

  51. Comment by Heather posted on

    Thank you for this blog keith, really amazing to speak out about this; we're not all strong characters and just working in a big team can seem very intimidating before you ever get to speaking in front of them! thanks for giving me a bit more confidence that I might be able to be ok at the job even if I'm not the one who shouts the loudest xx

  52. Comment by Emma posted on

    Thanks Keith for your honesty in sharing your struggles with confidence - and to everyone else who has shared their experiences. My confidence plummeted when I joined the civil service (a bit ironic, because I had been really proud of my achievement in getting in), and took over a decade to recover, with stumbles along the way.

    I applaud everyone's efforts to develop their own confidence, but to me many of the stories above highlight the fact that often our confidence is dented and battered by what other people do at work. Social class, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, educational background and other 'differences' also strongly influence how confident people feel in organisations that still don't often look very like the world outside. The problem isn't with individuals but the culture in which we work - but we can change the culture. I'd like to propose three simple things we can all do, at whatever grade or in whatever role, to help other people's confidence develop and create organisations which nurture confidence:
    - ask colleagues for their opinions (and respond to them, instead of just saying 'Mmm' and moving on);
    - recognise people publicly for their contribution, whether it's a specific task done well or the way in which people work; and
    - admit when we don't know something, lack confidence or neep help (true confidence means not being afraid to admit to weakness).

    I'd really like to think that somebody joining my organisation now would find it a more welcoming place than I did back in 2000.

  53. Comment by Emma posted on

    Wow - great blog and inspiring contributions from all. I have been working with a self confidence coach for a while now and the consistent message I have been given is..."find evidence that you aren't performing". It is actually much harder to do than you think. Many of us suffer from this in the current environment where change is constant and keeping up to speed (let alone ahead of the game) seems impossible.
    Hang in there though as as Keith has done - never let it stop you from trying new things. That is the only way to build our confidence.

  54. Comment by Jo posted on

    Love this blog Keith! Thanks so much for saying the things that need to be said. I totally identify! I can't count the number of WH meetings I find myself in every week, on various obscure issues, wishing I had or hadn't said something.

    I have found there is a lot to be said for showing up, being willing contribute and to be part of the process. Often people don't mind what you say, as much as the fact you are playing a part in their story. Connection is key.

  55. Comment by Gavin posted on

    A great blog and responses

    One issue I sometimes thinks gets mistaken for lack of self-confidence is that not enough consideration is taken of various personality types (as some have noted above). Society seems to view extroversion as the norm and that you have to be extroverted or to act in an extroverted way to be seen as a success and to progress in your career and life (why does public speaking always seem to be the marker for success or failure in life?!). It took me years to realise that being naturally introverted is a strength rather than a weakness and that recognition of your true personality type as being as valid as anyone else's is a hugely liberating feeling. What we need is the Civil Service and individuals and society more generally to value the diversity of the personality types that we all have and to play to our strengths, rather than thinking of introversion as a weakness which needs to be fixed by forcing introverts (or introverts forcing themselves) into situations where they are doomed to fail. Introverts should also draw self-confidence from their introversion. I recommend Susan Cain's work on this to everyone - http://www.quietrev.com/author/susan-cain/

    • Replies to Gavin>

      Comment by Sue Butler posted on

      Well done to all contributors! I have taken a Presentation Course to try and boost my confidence and because I am disabled, there were stumbling blocks. Although people around me do not realise, I am a shy person underneath, but use laughter as a mask.
      I was dissapointed in myself, because I could not give my best and I wanted to discover a formula for feeling comfortable in front of a crowd. That feeling has not appeared yet, but I am working on it!
      I have not had an illustrious career in the Civil Service, but I have had some wonderful experiences in my 39 years of service. I believe that if you give out happiness, it comes back to you and although this is not an easy concept to put forward when you don't feel ok. It does help the people around you and yourself in the end. My confidence is boosted, when someone says thank you, or laughs at my little idiosyncracy's.
      Thank you Keith for your inspiring blog.

    • Replies to Gavin>

      Comment by David posted on

      And Susan Cain's book "Quiet" is a 2must read" too.

  56. Comment by David posted on

    You mean I'm not alone? Yay!!! Seriously, this is a very refreshing blog. What I'm increasingly finding is that as I get older (I'm in my 50s) I'm much more at ease with who I am and if I am faced with something that takes me out of my comfort zone (and it can be something quite "trivial") I'm now more likely to do my best and not worry too much about what others might think. Experience has taught me that it's very unlikely anything bad will happen and the dithering wreck you think you see is more than likely nothing like what others see in you. Take heart!

  57. Comment by Jackie Brown posted on

    Unfortunately I had a bad experience when I told my line manager that I didn't feel confident speaking to angry people on the phone.My comment was used to criticise me in my annual report.Now I' m not willing to say I don't think I'm good at anything.I would only be willing to say I could be even better at some things. I think this is an unavoidable consequence of development being combined with performance appraisal.

  58. Comment by Tina posted on

    Thank you Keith for bringing the subject into the light. I have suffered self confidence, low self esteem and anxiety issues for years. I can by in my comfort zone and when I push myself to do other things eg volunteering I do well but it leaves me exhausted and I feel like Im putting a mask on. Speaking outside of my comfort zone is hard but again its been a case of pushing myself and practising.This article / blog somehow makes it acceptable to talk about and with the push on wellbeing at work I encourage people to talk about it openly. Good luck everyone!

  59. Comment by Lizzy posted on

    Reading the blog and all of the comments following it has been reassuring and refreshing. People's honesty and openess can be so helpful to others like myself. Thank you.

  60. Comment by Jayne posted on

    Hi Keith,
    This is so timley, I said last week to two different people that I was scared and they both just said "you!" So I spoke to my wonderful husband over the weekend about being scared. He said almost exactly what you say above "stop focusing so much on the things others are better at than you, start focusing on the things that you are naturally good at, really deploy those strengths to the max" He said "you're not great at forward thinking, but you're really great at meeting things and dealing with them, so why do you worry. You know you can cope and you're coping is better than most people's planning so just rely on that." It was such a light bulb moment and to see it re-inforced here is really good. Thanks Keith.

  61. Comment by Daniel posted on

    What a great blog Keith - well done!

  62. Comment by Tina posted on

    Thanks Keith your blog was great. As an Executive Officer I have always lacked self confidence, but last year something changed and and I am now on a journey where I am growing my own confidence instead of looking for it in training courses etc. Its sometimes scary but the achievement I have felt once something was completed has felt great. I have sought feedback and used it constructively. My achievements are not on your scale but in my journey just as big to me.One more thing it has been amazing how many others I have found feel the same and these blogs are great to raise awareness and make you realise its not just you!.

  63. Comment by Katrina posted on

    Keith,
    Thank you for this. I've never struggled with confidence really until 3 years ago personal tradegy hit me just weeks after gaining a promotion. Needless to say I failed at work and my confidence took a battering. I am really struggling to regain my confidence and the impact this is having on my professional career is huge to the point I have considered demotion. It is refreshing to see that others feel a lack of confidence and people you wouldn't expect. What I need to do now is find a way to overcome it that is right for me.

  64. Comment by Pete Vowles posted on

    Thanks (belatedly) for this blog. Our team loved it. Here's some further thoughts on the idea of incomplete leadership... https://medium.com/@PeteVowles/confidence-in-the-incomplete-leader-bc291103e71d