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

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