We admire those who have the courage to bet on their own ideas—those who, to paraphrase T. S. Eliot, risk going too far as the only way to discover how far they can really go. This applies not only to entrepreneurs, but to everyone. Those who risk going to the edge to achieve an important goal are individuals who have high self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is commonly defined as our belief in our ability to succeed in reaching a specific goal. It’s trusting that we have what it takes to cope with a given situation. In common parlance, it is having a “can-do” attitude.
The term self-efficacy is the brain-child of Albert Bandura, Professor Emeritus of Social Psychology at Stanford University. His research has shown that individuals with high self-efficacy are more likely to put a greater effort in achieving specific outcomes. They also attribute any failure to things that are within their control, rather than blaming others or the conditions surrounding them. Most importantly, they are able to recover quicker from setbacks and are, therefore, more likely to succeed in realizing their goals.
Conversely, those who have low self-efficacy lower their goals because they believe that they cannot succeed. They are, therefore, prone to make less effort and are reluctant to leave their comfort zone to take on challenges. They view these challenges as potential threats to be avoided. And we all know innately that we lose opportunities for courage and growth when we stand back and are not willing to walk to the edge.
According to Bandura’s findings, there are four influences that can help us develop our self-efficacy:
- Mastery experiences: successful experiences through repeated effort; in other words, not easy successes, but successes that involve overcoming obstacles through persistence.
- Vicarious experiences: watching other people, similar to us, succeed through perseverance leads us to increasing our belief, that we, too, could improve our performance in comparable activities.
- Verbal persuasion: others convincing us that we have what it takes to successfully master given activities.
- Physiological and emotional states: lowering stress and tension and managing our emotional states as they can influence how we view ourselves; being anxious, for example, can lower our self-efficacy.
A poster girl for self-efficacy is Ivana Sendecka. She lives in Slovakia and wanted to change her corner of the world, by helping emerging leaders in her country. In this video clip, she tells the story of how she had great aspirations which were almost squashed when a mentoring colleague tried to dissuade her. Having great personal faith, she listened to her own voice instead and went on to realize her ambition and be the catalyst for the first-ever conference entitled “The Next Generation Leaders of Slovakia.” Sendecka is now even featured as one of the inspiring leaders in Jim Kouzes’ and Barry Posner’s book: The Truth About Leadership: the No-Fads, Heart-of-the-Matter Facts you Need to Know.
Here are a few tips to help you raise your self-efficacy:
1. Listen to the whispers of those who encourage you. Whether it’s a partner, a family member, a coach or a newly-found friend, spend more time with these people. They are a gift in your life. A recent University of Exeter study, for example, showed that emotional support and encouragement improves performance in different areas of life including sports performance.
2. Be vigilant of those who undermine you. It’s easier for others to lower our self-efficacy with criticism than it is to raise it with encouragement. Therefore, be particularly vigilant of people in whose presence you may feel diminished. You need to be aware of who they are so that you can stay clear of them if you can—especially before an important event such as a major presentation when you need to be at your best performance.
3. Create a list of individuals who inspire you. Look for social models of people similar to you accomplishing great things, despite adversities and setbacks. Actively observe these people and derive inspiration from their ability to stick it out through tough times. These people inject us with hope for the future.
4. Resolve to be an efficacy builder for others in your environment. This could be a spouse, a child, a constituent, young people starting their career path, or an old friend in a transition phase. When we build others up and see them succeed, something flows over to us. It increases our leadership self-efficacy as we become catalysts for developing others.
5. Control your moods. Be aware of your inner conversation; if it is keeping you focused on a gloomy perspective and causing you to be in a perpetual bad mood, find ways to channel those moods in a more productive path. Bad moods can lower your self-efficacy and, if you are leading a team, this can have a ripple effect on them. “Fewer bad moods at the top mean fewer throughout the organization” is how Daniel Goleman put it in a seminal article entitled, “What Makes a Leader.”
6. Stop seeking feedback from others. There is a fine line between seeking advice once in a while for important issues and being dependent on others’ counsel on a regular basis. We can become addicted to seeking advice and in the process, dilute our own insights and weaken our authentic voice. Worse still, this insidious habit can slowly corrode our self-reliance and confidence in our own abilities.
Self-efficacy is a gift you can give to yourself and others. It’s the gift of self-trust. Perhaps this is what Michael Jordan meant when he said: “You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.” What is your recurring self-perception? Does it support what you want to achieve? What can you do right now to increase your self-efficacy?
Bruna Martinuzzi is a facilitator, author, speaker, and founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd., a company that specializes in emotional intelligence, leadership, and presentation skills training. Her latest book is The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.