Confidence is over rated

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A presence, or lack of, confidence appears to be an important driver for success. We look up to people who have an air of self assuredness and confidence. When we meet them we wish we were more like them and when we interview them we will beg them to come and work for us.


But its takes more than confidence to get results as my rock climbing days taught me.

At the tender age of 25 I went to North Wales for my first rock climbing course.

On day one we played on some of the big boulders in Llanberis Pass. This exercise was to help us become familiar with the levels of grip afforded by climbing shoes. Behind the boulder field was a massive rock face and and I spotted some climbers, like brightly coloured ants, making their way up.

 I pointed them out to Alex, my climbing partner on the course. Our instructor, Martin, must have the seen the expression on our faces as we picked the climbers out. “You’ll both be up there by the end of the week” he said with a smile and a calmness that, in all honesty, was not a sensation I shared. His confident assertion did nothing to calm my nerve at the very idea of being up there.

On the last day of the course Alex and I found ourselves kitted out and looking upwards at the very rock face we had been looking at on day (Direct Route  on Dinas Mott for those of you in the know). I took a step forward raised my left foot and stepped onto the face.

 Around two hours later we emerged at the top of the climb and I remember sitting on the top of that rock rock face, staring across Llanberis Pass. I felt an elation which, to this day, I regard as one of the finest experiences of my life.

How may times in your business life have you, or members of your team, let a lack of confidence cause you to reject, or procrastinate over, a course of action?

We talk about confidence as though it is some real tangible force in our lives. We tell people to have more confidence in themselves and even the government use business confidence as a barometer of how well the country is doing economically.

Its absolute horseshit. Confidence is just the result of our thinking in the moment. In completing that climb, confidence played just one part; it got me to take the first step onto the face. After that it played no further role. It was competence and commitment that got me to the top.


Over the week of the climbing course I acquired skills that enabled me to take on Direct Route on Dinas Mott. There was lots of practical stuff to learn. How to tie knots, set belays, handle ropes, place protection, communicate with your climbing partner and interpret guide books. It wasn’t just important to understand the techniques but to also understand the principles behind them so they could be applied as you move through the ever changing landscape of a rock climb.

It’s the same in business.

There is a lot of things you, and your team, have to learn and attend to; Marketing, sales, Customer service, Finances and managing others, to name but a few. The good news is there is no shortage of books, videos, podcasts and experts out there to teach you the specifics. If anything, the key skill you need to learn is the ability to prioritise, filter and critically evaluate information, so you can apply what you are learning into the context of your specific business.

This knowledge has the effect of giving you the feelings associated with more confidence. But, once again, even this confidence / competence balance is not enough on its own.


It is not the first step on a climb that is actually the most important. It is several steps later. It is the point at which you are too high to simply jump off the route. From this point you are committed to the climb. In climbing language, the word committed is often used in reference to the level of exposure you may feel on a route.

There are climbing guidebooks that provide details of individual routes. Normally they include a photograph of the crag with a line indicating the route you take and some notes. Each route is also graded using two references. The route I climbed on in the story was rated VS 5b. The VS stands for ‘Very Severe’ and is an assessment of the difficulty of the overall route. The 5b is a code used to grade the very hardest move on the route.

Before you start a climb you stand back and look at the crag and try to visualise and map out your direction of travel and where your belay points are, on route. But once you are on the route things look very different. You lose the perspective of where you are on the route as you can’t see most of it anymore. You are required to focus on the rock that is right in front and whatever is happening around you.

You are fully committed and to retreat at this point is almost always more dangerous than to keep moving up (down climbing is no fun I can tell you).

Commitment requires a different set of personal attributes. It requires that you are able to retain focus on your outcome, have situational acuity and an ability to shape decisions and actions, with limited information, and lots of unknowns. It was Martin working with me that shaped my ability to commit to routes, develop my situational awareness and read situations in ways that allowed me to make decisive moves, in spite of the thinking going on in my head.

Sound familiar? Anyone running a company knows these feelings. But there are a few differences in rock climbing and business:

There isn’t a detailed guidebook for your route

There is no fixed route map and no one that has climbed your specific route before. Anyone that tells you they have an off the shelf roadmap for getting you where you want to be is, at best deluding you, and at worst, putting your outcome in jeopardy. You have to create the blueprint that is the unique and best expression of you and what you want your outcomes to be.

The rock face keeps moving

The direction you head towards, and the route you need to follow, are not fixed in stone (or rock). You are moving up a rock face that is constantly shifting and re-shaping itself. You are climbing a unique route that is characterised by an ever changing landscape that you are viewing through your unique personal view of the world.

Down-climbing or staying where you are is an option

When it comes to business the brutal reality is procrastination, deferment or even retreat are available options. With climbing you have to keep moving upwards. Sometimes the climbing is easy and sometimes you are called upon to tentatively test moves and be willing to back off and try a different direction.

So once I had spent time around Martin I began to understand myself a lot more, in ways that enabled me to use the skills I had learned to push myself to do new routes and to push my grades. In many ways that last climb on the course was the beginning of my climbing development. It was only when Alex and I went out climbing alone that we truly began to realise just how we had progressed.

Relying on yourself

Your need for confidence ended the moment you stepped onto the business rock face. Where you go from here is about competence and commitment, in order to make the next logical move in the direction of travel you want to take.

My job is parallel with Martins; to get you and your team to a point where you are all able to understand yourselves, and how you perceive the business world, in ways that allow you to willingly commit to a direction, figure out your route and get moving, adapting effortlessly to the opportunities and challenges you’ll face on the route.

Whether it us working with you personally, your managers and directors through my SME Leadership Development program or your sales, service and support teams, through the Customer Ninja program the outcome is the same. More resilient, grounded and happy people driving much stronger results.

Book your free exploratory call, or come along to my next Business Breakout briefing session, to get some ideas that will get your company on track for success.  We’ll explore some fresh thinking and you’ll leave the session feeling far more committed to getting your company where you want it to be.