Creating Confidence

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASigh! What a joy it is to write about this and also how difficult.

Business is 100% about confidence. In confident markets people trade. When we trade we set up energy flows- money and goods and services change hands and we are all the better for it. A margin here and a margin there and the traders profit. Profit to those who get upset about the word is what you regard as wages. Recompense for the work you do. The consumers (a dirty word in some environmental circles, but actually we are all consumers) get the products and services they need. From this we grow health, wealth and happiness. Wholeness, wellbeing and a smile not just on our faces but that can be shared with all we meet.

And then there is personal confidence. I have recourse to Wikipedia: Confidence is generally described as a state of being certain either that a hypothesis or prediction is correct or that a chosen course of action is the best or most effective. Self-confidence is having confidence in oneself.

Confidence: Arose in the English language 1350-1400 from Middle French and previously from Latin. Where it means much the same as it does today. And in a bad sense impudence or boldness as in ‘overconfident’.

I’m delighted that my own children are much more confident than I was at the same age. I wonder why? Well I expect it’s because my parents met (as opposites do) because one of the things they shared in common was their anxiety about who they were and their right to be what they were. They had both come from very poor starting places to be very educated people who knew lots and talked well. But somewhere they doubted their ability.

I think my wife’s parents (who came from much better backgrounds but had also experienced challenging times in growing up) similarly had reservations about their confidence. I think somehow without ever discussing it Nancy and I brought our children up to be confident. Hey sometimes over-confident. But better that than the other way round.

I’ve worked a lot with young people over the years. Running the Prince’s Trust in Edinburgh (and the Lothians) I helped over a thousand young people over a six year period. Half of them started businesses and half of them didn’t. I sometimes think those that didn’t were the biggest success. They didn’t end up in debt.

At the ‘top end ‘of the scale I had clients winning national awards (International Shell Livewire Award, Junior Chamber of Commerce Enterprise of the Year). I left when I got bored of the sound of my own voice ‘giving advice’. They would say to me ‘What advice do you have?’ I would say: ‘Only one thing, never give advice.’ Nobody profits from advice – it’s not just young people. If you want to lead someone else into a confident land then what you have to do is create the right environment for them to discover it for themselves. People can only empower themselves. You can’t empower anyone else and neither can I. But we can offer others the space to discover for themselves.

We can ask challenging questions, we can play devil’s advocate and we can give great connections to vital information or helpful people.

At the end of the day confidence is the result of experience. I worry about people who don’t make mistakes. They’re not trying to do anything new. The secret is not to make terminal mistakes.

Creating Confidence. Create the right conditions. Let people do it their own way. Resist stopping them making mistakes. Pass on common sense. Protect them from serious harm. Share when asked. Resist sharing when not asked. Reflect back when people rely on you in a way that says you can do this yourself. Read a lot and encourage others to do so. Get others singing together (Singing together makes us strong). Tell stories. And never give advice.

And my own confidence? Very variable? When I first started out doing public speaking I rapidly leaned a written text didn’t work for me. I just needed bullet points that I could talk around and be conversational. But I often had nose bleeds or was sick before public speaking. Really. And still do sometimes. But everyone thinks I’m super-confident. Well deep inside I am. But often I doubt it.

My confidence comes from knowing my subject really well, and never thinking for a moment I can’t learn more, believing in myself (except those often occasions when I don’t), and an undying belief that MOST people are kind and willing, and constantly trying to find better ways of dealing with those who haven’t learned yet that that is their true nature, great sales training (from Philips Industries years ago), and a passionate commitment to what I believe is right.

Although I’m not really sure if that is so …


Graham Bell has many years experience in business and is an expert in public policy. Graham is currently chair of the Borders Federation of Small Businesses.

He is also a successful author, with The Permaculture Way and The Permaculture Garden to his credit and is a world renowned teacher of permaculture design and principles. He is currently chair at Permaculture Scotland.

1 Comment on Creating Confidence

  1. Graham, thank you for a very interesting article. I agree entirely agree with you that people need an appetite for learning which includes realising their own mistakes and moving forward. Good things don’t often happen in isolation and without encouragement and support from their hinterland it can be easy for a person’s confidence to be nobbled by self doubt.

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