When you feel inadequate


A common “secret” I hear from some leaders is that they lack the self-confidence needed to rise to being the leader they envision. This feeling of inadequacy might happen with a new job, a new promotion, a new goal, or when there is a change to deal with (in other words, at any time!).

Like many of you, I’ve struggled with self-confidence for much of my life. I know where it comes from – the messages received in my childhood from well-meaning parents, teachers, and other adults or children. I also know its roots in fear and shame very well.

Lack of confidence can allow my shadow side to come through. It isn’t pretty, and I don’t at all like the way I am and the way I treat others when this happens. I like to think it isn’t the “real me” and that if I can only find a way to get beyond the state I’m in, things will be better.

So the cycle of feeling inadequate continues.

Lack of self-confidence definitely impacts our ability to be the best leaders possible. It can strain relationships at work and at home. It impedes our goals and causes unhealthy conflict in relationships.

I’ve learned a few coping strategies that I’d like to share:

Recognize the thoughts that keep you in that space of feeling inadequate. What are they saying? Are they true (probably not)? Can you see the other side of those thoughts – how they are temporary perhaps, or that they are there to help you learn what is true and good about you? Focus on who you really are and on your core values and purpose.

Be vulnerable by seeking out those who support you. Is there a colleague, coach, mentor, partner or friend who can help you to get back to confident self? Seek out those who know you the amazing things you are capable of and spend some time with them. Listen, embody, and believe what they tell you.

Small wins are a great way to begin to develop the confidence you need. You might be looking at an imposing mountain but you always have to start climbing with the first steps at the base. What have you done today, yesterday, in the last month that is moving you forward? What can you do today, tomorrow or in the next month that will set the foundation for your really big wins?

Remember that you are only human. You will make mistakes that need to be turned into learning opportunities. Nobody else can do that for you. In the depths of your despair over whatever didn’t turn out as you wanted it to, find the learning nuggets. Give yourself grace for seeing your role in whatever didn’t go as you expected and discover the gold in it.

As a bonus, for anyone who may be interested, I keep something I call a “smile file” (yes, silly as it sounds, it is actually labeled that way!). I stash away remembrances (thank you notes, articles, etc.) that lift my spirits and help me to be resilient; they can be pulled out and re-read when I feel confidence diminish. They lift me back up.



I am a former executive in a Fortune 100 company. I have owned and operated an executive coaching firm since 2003 called Aspire Collaborative Services LLC. We partner with great leaders to help them become even greater at developing, improving, and sustaining relationships with the people who are essential to their success. This blog is for leaders and those who help them to be more intentional about relationships at work. My top personal values include respect for others, kindness, compassion, collaboration and gratitude. I work very hard at practicing my values daily and when I don’t succeed, I practice some more. I am married with two wonderful daughters and two spoiled pugs.

4 comments on “When you feel inadequate

  1. I guess we all have that feeling sometimes, however, I think it is useful. Not having it might lead to overconfidence in one self and thus bad decisions.

    A trick I have used when the feeling creeps in on me is to tell myself that somebody has confidence in me. Several people trust my leadership abilities: my boss, my co-workers and the people I lead.

  2. Soren, its a balance, don’t you think – between “just confident enough” and hubris. I like looking at lack of confidence as something useful, as long as a leader doesn’t dwell in it. Thanks for your insight as to how you deal with feeling inadequate!

  3. Mary Jo, thank you for your post – such an important message for many reasons. To be able to conquer or at least tame the fears/doubts we struggle with – we first need to own them.

    Thank you for your thoughts and your work

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