On 14 April 1865, as he sat watching a play at the Ford Theatre in Washington DC, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.
The 16th President of the United States, Lincoln navigated the American Civil War and is credited by many as the driving force that unified the country. Much has been written about the assassination, but what has always fascinated me was what he had in his pockets the night he died.
Now on display in the Library of Congress, Lincoln had on his person:
- two pairs of spectacles
- a white handkerchief
- a watch fob
- a pocket knife
- a sleeve button
- a leather wallet with only a single $5 bill
- eight newspaper clippings
While many marvel at how simple and everyday these items are, it is the newspaper clippings that capture my attention. They were articles that lauded the President’s achievement and sang his praises.
Why did he carry these clippings on his person daily?
Despite many considering Abraham Lincoln to be one of the greatest world leaders to have ever held office, he still struggled with the one question that all of us as leaders must struggle with.
Am I good enough?
Leaders at all levels need to be able to answer this question. As I wrote last week, failure to answer this question in the affirmative leaves leaders wracked with self-doubt and fear, which gradually erodes the foundations of our leadership.
When doubt is at play, our confirmation bias kicks in. When you doubt your abilities and don’t believe you are good enough, your brain starts to look for evidence to confirm this belief. If you are going to be a successful leader over a long period, you need to be able to combat this bias.
Abraham Lincoln had found one way to do just that.
BUILD A BODY OF EVIDENCE
One of the most effective ways to overcome your self-doubt, defeat your confirmation bias and answer the ‘Am I good enough?‘ question, is to build a body of evidence that supports the conclusion you are good enough.
A naturally brooding personality, Lincoln was often prone to question himself and his decisions. By collecting the newspaper clippings, Lincoln had collected evidence that he was doing a good job and that he was indeed good enough. By carrying them on his person each day, he was continually reminding himself of that fact.
By collecting evidence that you are good enough, you will be able to review it, encourage yourself, and build your confidence. That evidence might be significant achievements at work, successful project completions, resolving conflict, hitting KPIs, or seeing your team members grow and develop. It may be positive feedback you receive or an encouraging email someone sends you. It might be photos of meaningful moments of success and fulfilment.
I’ve previously mentioned that failing to answer the ‘Am I good enough?‘ question, is like building a mansion on top of bamboo stilts – looks flashy but remains unstable. Each time you collect a piece of evidence you are adding another pole to reinforce the foundations of the building. Over time the foundation becomes more solid.
Here are four tips to help do this effectively:
- Centralise it in one spot. Gather all your evidence in one spot. This way it’s easy to find and it builds up over time. Seeing your body of evidence get bigger and bigger, the more reason you have to believe you are good enough and the more emphatically you can answer the question and overcome your self-doubt.
- Make it easy to access. When you are feeling down and doubting yourself, the last thing you want to do is go through a difficult process to find your evidence. If it’s difficult, you won’t look at it. I keep a small journal on my desk. It’s easy to access for me to add to it, and to review it. If it’s physical, keep it within reach. If it’s a computer file, keep it on your desktop. If it’s in an app on your phone, keep it on your home screen.
- Consider something physical. Having something to hold has the benefit of making the intangible tangible. Being able to physically hold onto your evidence, particularly as it grows larger, makes it seem more real. I had a client who used a folder for this purpose. He continually added handwritten notes, printed copies of emails, dashboards, and P&L Statements with key parts highlighted. As the folder filled, it got heavier. He could see and feel his body of evidence growing.
- Review it regularly. The reality is you will continue to struggle with some level of self-doubt throughout your leadership career. It is not something you overcome and never deal with again. Each time you do something new or go to the next level, you will wrestle with the ‘Am I good enough?’ question anew. Abraham Lincoln read those newspaper clippings daily. I review my journal regularly. Your confidence will need to be continually and proactively reinforced.
I’m yet to encounter a leader who has solved the ‘Am I good enough?‘ problem and been able to stop that question from reoccurring throughout their career. But by building a body of evidence that demonstrates your ability to lead and lead well, you enable yourself to answer it emphatically, each time the question rears its ugly head.