Building Self-Trust

High self-trust is a essen­tial to lead­er­ship. At a bare min­i­mum we need it because lead­er­ship often demands we han­dle tense or sen­si­tive sit­u­a­tions and poten­tial­ly must make unpop­u­lar deci­sions. Some­times we must influ­ence not only our­selves but a team or sev­er­al teams or a whole organization. 

I use this word, self-trust, instead of self-con­fi­dence because con­fi­dence frankly has a lot of bag­gage as a term now, too often con­not­ing too much con­fi­dence and the dan­gers of arro­gance. Also, as it turns out the word, con­fi­dence, means “with full trust,” so that trust seems to be the more orig­i­nal idea.

In the enclosed video, dia­gram and ten-page paper, I approach build­ing self-trust from the per­spec­tive that it is our nat­ur­al way of being, but also one that is vul­ner­a­ble to being erod­ed or cov­ered up by emo­tion­al states. In part the result of these stressed times, four emo­tions — anx­i­ety, guilt, anger and depres­sion — mixed as a per­son­al­ly unique “cock­tail” — can promi­nent­ly inter­fere. As an over-con­di­tioned reac­tion to stress, the cock­tail is what depletes us of our sense of self-trust. For each of these four emo­tion­al states, I share a goal and a prac­tice to help meet poten­tial­ly strong feel­ings rather than try­ing to sup­press them.

The emo­tions, goals and prac­tices are pre­sent­ed as exam­ples of what meet­ing a strong emo­tion means, not a be-all and end-all solu­tion. I encour­age lead­ers to use the mod­el as a cat­a­lyst to doing their own work to iden­ti­fy for them­selves the emo­tion­al states that most inter­fere and to devel­op per­son­al­ized goals and practices. 

Every­body, it turns out, has their own favorite cock­tail. You can find out a lit­tle more about iden­ti­fy­ing your own prac­tices via this post here on the Unfold­ing Lead­er­ship blog.

This video sum­ma­ry is about twen­ty min­utes long. I sug­gest that you down­load the dia­gram I use in the video — it’s like­ly to make it eas­i­er to fol­low along. You can find that dia­gram here.

You can also down­load my longer paper, which includes the dia­gram, as an ongo­ing resource. The paper goes into more depth than the video. You can down­load it here.


I’ve been work­ing on this mate­r­i­al for some time and have shared it with a vari­ety of clients. It’s been excit­ing to see the impact on our work together!

Please feel free to share any thoughts or feed­back you might have about these ideas and materials.


  • When the stu­dent is ready, Dan pub­lish­es a blog post ..

    I don’t have a work­place sto­ry to share, but I have a fam­i­ly sto­ry that encom­pass­es the full range — per­haps, the full cat­a­stro­phe — of emo­tions artic­u­lat­ed in this post (and the longer paper) .. and I often find that the mem­brane between work and home is semi-permeable. 

    Out of a grow­ing sense of intense anx­i­ety, I recent­ly orches­trat­ed a cri­sis inter­ven­tion with a loved one, facil­i­tat­ed by a pro­fes­sion­al interventionist.

    The prepa­ra­tion for the inter­ven­tion was use­ful — help­ing fam­i­ly & a small num­ber of close friends pre­pare let­ters of love and define clear bound­aries — but I rushed the process (< 1 week) and chose a style of inter­ven­tion (the John­son Mod­el) that I now believe was the wrong one (vs., say, the ARISE mod­el), because it was not an open process, and the loved one was not includ­ed in the plan­ning and prepa­ra­tion from the outset. 

    So now I feel guilt about mov­ing so quick­ly and using the wrong mod­el, and the loved one — who did not accept the invi­ta­tion to seek treat­ment (our pri­ma­ry goal for the inter­ven­tion) — feels more angry and depressed, not to men­tion betrayed and aban­doned, and jus­ti­fi­ably ques­tions my integri­ty and my com­mit­ment to the open­ness and hon­esty I have preached for so many years.

    So I now find myself going “off script”, adopt­ing prac­tices to address some of the anx­i­ety and guilt I feel, acknowl­edg­ing and apol­o­giz­ing (and then for­giv­ing myself) for the hasty choic­es I made, and rely­ing more on inner guid­ance, even when it is incon­sis­tent with the ongo­ing coach­ing from the inter­ven­tion­ist, in how best to move for­ward in a way that is lov­ing, com­pas­sion­ate and aligned with my true self .. the self that is not undu­ly influ­enced by anx­i­ety or guilt. 

    I am hope­ful the break­downs that have ensued will even­tu­al­ly pave the way for break­throughs. Metanoia, indeed.

    Any­how, I appre­ci­ate the oppor­tu­ni­ty afford­ed by this blog post — and the longer paper — to reflect upon and deep­en my accep­tance, aware­ness and under­stand­ing of some of the feel­ings expe­ri­enced by me as well as the oth­er peo­ple involved in this chal­leng­ing fam­i­ly process.

  • Hi Joe~

    First of all, it’s great to hear from you. For some rea­son, I was think­ing of you just yes­ter­day and feel­ing a lit­tle remorse­ful for not being in touch! So we should Zoom soon to catch up. I miss you!

    Sec­ond, your sto­ry is poignant in that I am absolute­ly cer­tain you came at this inter­ven­tion with the inten­tion of love and care for the per­son you and oth­ers were try­ing to help. How­ev­er the actu­al event went, I’m not sure any­one can know what the longer term impact will tru­ly be. The loved one may be angry and depressed now, may feel betrayed in the moment, but may also con­tin­ue to process and even­tu­al­ly find that love is call­ing him or her to get treatment. 

    What I can see in this cir­cum­stance is only that you were try­ing to help some­one who need­ed sup­port and you learned that the method used was­n’t the right one this time around. There’s also some nice reflec­tion here around ‘hasty choic­es,’ and how anx­i­ety pushed for con­trol rather than open­ness. It’s easy to get hooked into “should have seen/should have known” think­ing and then engag­ing in a search for per­son­al blind spots. That’s okay so long as it does­n’t result in excess self-pun­ish­ment for per­ceived mistakes.

    So how bad was this, real­ly?” might be a ques­tion that still needs to be answered and maybe you could ask the oth­ers who par­tic­i­pat­ed in the inter­ven­tion — as a real­i­ty check — if you haven’t done this already. From my per­spec­tive, at the very least you’ve learned a ton about the dif­fer­ences between the mod­els and their util­i­ty, about the val­ue of engage­ment and par­tic­i­pa­tion. And you are learn­ing more about your­self, too, and where your own good inten­tions, com­bined with too much anx­i­ety, might lead you. It sounds like you’ve acti­vat­ed a renewed trust in your inner judg­ment, as well. These are great big, pow­er­ful lessons. More pow­er to you!

    If the mod­el expressed in my paper has helped put some of all this into per­spec­tive, I’m thank­ful, Joe, and espe­cial­ly grate­ful that you’ve cho­sen to share your expe­ri­ence so hon­est­ly here. I think you’ve mod­eled per­fect­ly, what lead­ers do.

    All the best

Leave a Reply

Your email is never shared.Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.