The Coach is In…

The Value of Doubt

For some reason, or no reason, I began thinking about the word ‘doubt.’ It was in connection to what I was reading about someone who always needed to be ‘right.’ I have written about ‘the need to be right’ and its affect on leadership. I have coached and known many people who needed to be right, or put another way, wanted or needed to be the ‘smartest person in the room.’

In doing a little more research about ‘doubt’, most wanted to add “benefit of the” doubt. Other sites referred to doubt in the context of skeptic, you don’t believe. While I could write from that context, I am more interested in what may be a narrower focus, but I believe useful.

When I was younger, a lot younger, I had an aversion to any state of ‘being in doubt.’ I realized that stemmed to how we evolve as children. Part of our evolving and growing is learning how to do/know things (i.e., walking, talking, dressing, how to do _____, how _____ works, solving problems, becoming more proficient at ________ , learning about _____, etc.). It is how we gain confidence in ourselves; how we develop our credibility. One could say that all of life is a journey of learning, knowing, doing, and being – or, sadly, it is not.

I am surrounded by four grandchildren, two of which are 2 and 16 months. As I observe their growth, I note that they just ‘do.’ They are constantly exploring what is around them and learning what their physical capability is. Their parents, and grandparents, and significant others are their ‘bumpers’ in teaching them what they can or cannot do/touch. That action/interaction is taking place all over the world.

Our parents, or some significant other people, ‘taught’ us. As we grew we began to assimilate more knowledge just by interacting with our environment, including other people. As we entered school, we began to master the core information of reading, writing, and arithmetic; subsequently there were many other subjects and bodies of knowledge that we would come to know.

Part of our instinct was to ‘remove all doubt’ from our learning, our knowing, our doing. Doubt was a negative feeling that often led to fear and was uncomfortable. That feeling helped motivate us to ‘know.’ Doubt, when present, eroded our confidence and could affect how we ‘showed up’ in the world. This was all part of our evolution and maturation. Well into our 20’s and 30’s we continue to ‘become.’ I would contend that the journey of ‘becoming’ who we are is not only decades long, but for many, lasts a lifetime. We ‘master’ the skills that will enable us to hold a job and build a life. We modify as we go, at least hopefully.

I don’t know when it happened for me, but there was a time when some of the angst of ‘not knowing’ began to dissipate. I had reached a point of ‘knowing’ and ‘becoming’ where there was much less doubt because I had ‘mastered’ a larger body of what the world was requiring of me personally and professionally. I believe this began for me around 35.

Whenever this ‘state’ occurs, if it does, it is often accompanied with an increased feeling of confidence. It isn’t an event or a specific point in time but happens over time. If it is your nature, or you choose to go further in your growth, you may come to a different understanding. You decide that the direction you are headed is not getting you what you want. This ‘notion’ allows you to begin to ‘search’ for what other choices might provide you more of what you want. This ‘awakening’ is often initiated by doubt. We may not recognize the doubt at first. It may ‘appear’ as an event or situation that occurred that ‘raised doubt.’

For one of my clients, that ‘event’ was when I said to her, “No one cares about you being the smartest person in the room, unless that is your role. They want to know if you can be trusted as a person and a leader. They want to know if you care about them.” She told me many months later that was a catalytic moment for her in her learning to become a better person and leader.

This illustration is one of thousands of examples of catalytic moments for individuals where they respond to a different way of thinking. This is ‘doubt’ at work – “The way I am going about my life isn’t getting me all that I want.”

The subtlety is that doubt went from being an ‘adversary’ earlier in our life to playing a different role. For me, the role doubt played was often one of ‘mentor.’ It was my ‘pause’ before moving forward. It was the hesitation that allowed me to consider a different path and respond rather than react.

Several months ago, I heard a man being interviewed about what was the secret to he and his wife being married over 60 years. He hesitated only a moment before saying, “You know dear, you may be right.” I laughed, along with everyone else, but quickly understood that within that simple statement was a powerful affirmation of the other person; a key ingredient in relationships.

In my earlier days I was more interested in making sure that I was ‘heard.’ I evolved to a point of being more curious about what others had to say. My doubt, not formed out of fear, but formed from the security that ‘not knowing’ was okay and allowed others to participate in a more mutual way. That mutuality formed better relationships which allowed for more influence on both sides. This helped me to become a better person, husband, parent, and a more effective leader. My relationships had greater depth and greater satisfaction. My marriage was stronger.

Doubt is one of those interesting things in life that at one moment it is ‘enemy,’ and at another we learn how to make it our mentor, maybe our friend. Next time doubt shows up ask it why it is there. “Are you here as a guide to teach me, or are you here to create fear and have me be less than I am?” I can almost guarantee he/she will respond, “I have always been here as your guide. Unfortunately, you were not always able to see that, and assumed I was here to hurt you. I was not. I hope you will be able to see my value one day.”

To a better you…