• November 2013

The Confidence Quotient: Who Would You Be If You Believed You Could Do Anything?

By Ana Dutra
Former-CEO, Korn/ Ferry Consulting
Founder, Mandala Global Advisors

How much confidence is the right amount of confidence, and what are the lasting effects of the “wrong” amount of confidence?

Assuming that human beings are wired with different levels of self-awareness, confidence, and grit, there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to levels of confidence boosters.

However, in experiments conducted in middle schools, it was clear that children who continuously received positive and encouraging messages about their ability to achieve results performed much higher in academics and sports-related activities than their classmates who were constantly put down or had their natural abilities second-guessed by teachers, parents, or peers.

Sports psychologists have long used visualization, confidence boosting, and positive-thinking techniques to improve mental conditioning and competition performance in athletes. When people truly believe that they can accomplish challenging goals, the likelihood that they will actually achieve the desired results dramatically increases.

Conversely, when a little girl is told that she is not athletic or, more generally, that “girls are not good at math,” it is likely that she will not want to proactively participate in sports or will avoid careers that have strong math requirements.

Over time, human beings create a patchwork of personal beliefs regarding their abilities, talents, and possibilities that will shape important choices, behaviors, and ultimately, their entire lives.

I know this from personal experience. For example, as a child, I was repeatedly told that I was not athletic at all, but that I had all the “brains and smarts.” My academic history was filled with straight A’s, awards, and summa cum laude’s but I never had enough courage to try out for any sports … until I was 45 years-old.

That’s when I decided to try to run to relieve stress. While chatting with a running mate, I realized that I could run several miles at a pretty decent pace … without stopping! It is hard to describe how powerful I felt when I completed my first marathon. That shot of confidence enabled me to try biking and swimming, and it was only a short time before I became a triathlete and even completed an Ironman, a triathlon comprised of a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bicycle ride, and a marathon (26.2-mile) run, raced in that order and without a break.

Sometimes, gaining confidence in one area has a halo effect over other areas.

Take Lucas, a handsome young boy who, from a very young age, believed that he was not as smart as his older brothers or classmates. Little by little, Lucas dropped classes and avoided any extracurricular activities. He was reserved and didn’t like to go to school.

One day, at 13, Lucas discovered he could solve Rubik’s Cubes faster than anybody else. He nurtured a champion mentality regarding Rubik’s Cubes and dedicated hours a day to solving Rubik’s Cubes. Winning a few Rubik’s Cubes tournaments gave Lucas such a confidence boost that not only did his grades in school improve, but he was also willing to take on new academic challenges such as learning a new language.

The same dynamic is true for leaders and organizations. For example, successful entrepreneurs tend to be highly confident and optimistic individuals. People who follow or work for them often mention their leader’s contagious energy, positive thinking, and resilience. That type of mindset ends up translating into the organizational culture and mindset as well.

Some companies have a “winning culture” which, combined with a mindset of continuous learning, is one of the strongest drivers of high performance in any business.

Of course, too much confidence combined with low self-awareness and low willingness to learn will likely come across as arrogance and, overtime, prevent individual and organizational learning and growth.

Still, when looking for the “right level of confidence,” I would encourage you to err on the side of more rather than less confidence.

After all, it just took a little bit of pixie dust for Peter Pan to fly. Sprinkling a little bit of confidence on individuals, teams, and organizations can create a long-lasting winning attitude and make people believe they can achieve great things.


About Ana Dutra

Ana Dutra is the CEO of Mandala Global Advisors, a company she recently founded, and a senior global advisor for Humantelligence, a technology solutions company. She has 28 years of experience as a global executive, consultant, and business leader in industries such as technology, manufacturing, and professional services. In the last six years as the CEO of Korn/Ferry Leadership and Talent Consulting, Dutra created a $300 million new global business through a combination of organic growth, multiple acquisitions, innovative go-to-market approaches, and incorporation of technology and digitalization of products and services.

A Brazilian native with more than 20 years of experience in P&L management, business growth, and C-Level business consulting in more than 30 countries, Dutra is also a director on the boards of the Executives Club of Chicago, the International Women Forum, Children’s Memorial Hospital of Chicago, Governor State University, and Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL).

Dutra holds an MBA from Kellogg, a Master in Economics from Pontificia Universidade do Rio de Janeiro, and a Juris Doctor from Universidade do Rio de Janeiro, all summa cum laude. Fluent in four languages—Portuguese, English, Spanish, and French—she lives in Northfield, IL, with her husband, their three daughters, and their German Shepherd.

For more information, click here to contact Ana Dutra.