It’s been a quarter-century since yelling “Hakuna!” first elicited a hearty “Matata!” response. Yet “The Lion King” persists as a cultural icon, no doubt thanks to the long-running Broadway musical and this summer’s billion-dollar live-action remake. That longevity is also tied to the storyline’s message, which goes way beyond simply being wary of crazy uncles or learning the value of friendship and laughter. Simba’s biggest lesson is timeless, and it’s especially useful for all young professionals and entrepreneurs: Bravery starts with finding your strengths and fostering your self-esteem.
Low confidence abounds among the founder ranks, whether in the form of full-blown impostor syndrome or a nagging feeling of general inadequacy. The only way to feel more capable is to acknowledge your strengths and build on them daily—that’s also, conveniently, the key to creating an effective personal brand. The benefits of this approach are numerous, including the end result of a more capable, flexible, healthy company. As shown in research from leadership development firm Zenger Folkman, confidence and leadership effectiveness are significantly correlated. Self-confident leaders are more highly rated for traits like championing, challenging and inspiring their teams.
Of course, when realistic self-esteem turns into delusional overconfidence, it’s not so great for leadership. You’ll know that your confidence has morphed into arrogance when you’re losing team members’ trust and failing to keep your promises. Professionals who stay humble and recognize their self-worth become magnets. They lead simply by exuding clarity of mind and heart.
If you feel like a timid, worried Simba who hasn’t yet proven himself, take stock of your strengths. As long as you’re willing to put energy into improving your inherent skill sets, you increase the likelihood of becoming a self-assured king or queen of your jungle. Start your bravery quest by taking the following steps.
1. Lead with your strengths.
You’re fantastic at numbers, or maybe you’re a branding phenom. Work those attributes while filling your knowledge gaps. Greg McBeth, head of revenue at AI-as-a-service solution Node, once earned a living as a poker player. He might not have been the most patient player, but he was always keen to lead with his high cards and learn along the way. “You know your strengths. You know the tendencies of successful people,” McBeth says. “Put those traits together to devise a game plan to sharpen your innate talents.”
Best of all, you don’t have to return to the classroom to do that talent-sharpening. Even Warren Buffett thinks academia has its limitations. The billionaire recommends studying the success of others and reading voraciously. Not sure where to begin? Pick one or two areas that could immediately improve your business acumen, such as getting a better handle on budgeting processes or finally figuring out your CRM software. And get some sort of mentor, whether that’s a seasoned entrepreneur who can steer you away from the mistakes she made or a senior colleague who can school you in boardroom etiquette.
2. Evict your inner impostor.
No, you’re not perfect, but you have some incredible talents that others may lack. Instead of feeling like a fraud because you don’t know everything, remind yourself that you bring capabilities, experience and insight to your company that no one else does or can. Start by making a list of positive affirmations that you can refer back to when you’re feeling less than worthy.
What should you do when the impostor syndrome begins its creep? According to Brittany Berger, founder of digital media company WorkBrighter.co, the answer is to beat yourself at your own game by reminding yourself what you’re worth. Berger has trained herself to recognize warning signs early so she can confront them. She notes, “For me, impostor syndrome looks like not going for opportunities because I feel like I’m not experienced enough, keeping my prices low for products and services and going too long without increasing them, and setting ridiculously high expectations for myself, so that, of course, I’ll fall short.” Set some attainable aspirations and stop sabotaging your success.
3. Take risks to overcome your fears.
Being brave doesn’t equate to seeking out trouble. But it does mean acknowledging that not all risks are bad. Quite the contrary: Some risks, like trying for a stretch promotion or asking investors for money, can end in esteem-showering results. Once you’ve silenced the inner accusations of impostor syndrome, you’ll realize that you deserve the bigger rewards that can come from taking bigger risks.
The next time you feel a twinge of anxiety about pushing outside of your comfort zone, treat it as a signal to shoot for a higher goal. Take on the challenging client, submit your writing for publication, or apply for that high-visibility role. You shouldn’t just throw caution to the wind, of course. Do some homework and plan your line of attack. Then get ready to pounce on opportunities. Even if you don’t grab the brass ring, you’ll gain some eye-opening insights, making you more prepared for your next risk. Overcome your fears by accepting that neither failure nor success defines your worth.
Take a hint from Pumbaa and Timon and “put your behind in your past.” Specifically, stop stressing about your scars and look toward a confident future, brimming with chances to test your mettle and show off your newfound pluck. That’s the path to true pride—in every sense of the word.