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Student Experience

Build Your Confidence, Achieve Greater Success at Work

By Paul Smirl

April 17, 2018

As a former pro golfer, confidence was once the biggest barrier for a recent University of Wisconsin–Madison MBA alumna. On paper, she and her teammate were not similar players. She had better fundamentals, more talent, and by every conceivable metric, was the better player. Her coaches and golf experts would tell you the same thing. But when it came to competition, she lost to her teammate nine out of ten times.

Competition changed the way she performed. She started second-guessing her skill, thinking about what people were thinking of her, and feeling the eyes of spectators on her with every stroke.

Confidence versus self-doubt is as critical on the golf course as it is in the workplace and is at the heart of many professionals’ career struggles. While skill and motivation are driving factors in career success, most people plateau professionally despite their talent. Confidence, as another essential success factor, is often overlooked.

Alex Stajkovic, associate professor of management and human resources and M. Keith Weikel Distinguished Chair in Leadership at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, researches confidence and discusses the following figures with his MBA classes:

Doubt creeps in at an early age; the average person is told “no” 148,000 times before age 18 (Shad Helmstetter, 1986)

75% of our thoughts are negative and about doubt (Shad Helmstetter, 1986)

It’s no wonder so many people experience a lack of confidence when moving forward in their careers. Stajkovic’s academic research focuses on confidence in the workplace and the role it can have in helping professionals reach their full potential.

According to Stajkovic, your core confidence is correlated to these four elements:

  • Hope: How you view what it takes to accomplish what you want.
  • Self-efficacy: How much you believe in your ability to do a specific task.
  • Optimism: How you perceive the future and how specific events may unfold. If your perception of something you want to happen has a low expectancy, it probably won’t happen.
  • Resilience: How strongly you believe you can bounce back. When people don’t think they can handle failure, there’s very little chance they pursue the challenge.

The Role of Self-Efficacy in Work Performance

Woman standing in from of a bar graph with values going up over time. 28% average performance improvement due to self-efficacySelf-efficacy or “do I believe I can do this?” is one of the most crucial career questions. If you want to advance in your career, you have to believe that your skills and hard work will get you there.

According to Stajkovic, self-efficacy can be improved and developed, and can help you when taking on an advanced role where you lack day-to-day experience. Self-efficacy is the first step to giving you a broader and more confident approach to getting where you want to go.

In a meta-analysis of 114 studies and job performance of over 21,000 individuals, Stajkovic found that people raised their average performance by 28% due to self-efficacy.

Five ways to develop efficacy:

  1. Enacted mastery: Go out, take small steps, and try the task you want to accomplish: enact it. The more you do something, the better you get at it.
  2. Vicarious learning (modeling): Observe others, try the task yourself, get feedback, and try the task again.
  3. Verbal persuasion: Get encouragement from credible, trusted people in your field. They will help you believe you can accomplish something.
  4. Physiological/psychological states: Health, stress, and anxiety affect your efficacy. Maintain your health to perform in your best state.
  5. Perception of ability: Ability and skills in a certain area can be learned. If you fail at something, pick yourself back up and try again.

Confidence provides opportunities
When examining your own belief in your professional self, know that confidence enables your potential. It’s not a magic pill, and you don’t want to be over-confident, but confidence gives you more opportunities to accomplish your career goals given your ability and motivation. If you have the skill and the will, you can achieve amazing things with confidence.

Sought after by Fortune 500 companies, Alex Stajkovic is a leadership expert who has earned acclaim for his world-renowned research on the role of confidence in professional success. He regularly advises C-suite professionals and key leaders at global companies on the link between confidence and performance and teaches in the Wisconsin Evening MBA and Wisconsin Executive MBA programs at the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.