The Role Self-Efficacy, Confidence & Resilience
Plays in Leadership

Herb Stevenson, CEO
Cleveland Consulting Group, Inc.
26 June 2015

When facing a leadership challenge, do you move into a combination of diagnostic and possibility thinking driven by the feeling of confidence, or do you move into an assessment of how daunting is the situation supported by your internal master storyteller about why this is likely an insurmountable task leading to you doubting your own abilities to rise up and overcome the difficulties of life? Self-efficacy, or your belief in your own abilities to deal with various situations, can play a role in not only how you feel about yourself, but whether or not you successfully achieve your goals in life.

During a succession plan, the CEO decided to not retire. The succession candidates were stunned. One of the leaders became COO at another organization while the other left to run a larger SBU in a mid-sized conglomerate. Shortly, after the transition, both of the leaders began to struggle with feelings of doubt. Under the stress of the suddenly dismantled succession plan and the completely new role definition, the transition was anything but smooth. Suddenly, the very confident leaders began to second-guess and listen to negative self talk.

Self-efficacy is the cornerstone of leadership. You can teach a leader to be an effective problem solver who is more decisive or to be a better communicator who can also coach, mentor and hold team members accountable (and many other fundamentals of leadership). Yet, without that leader first believing in himself or herself, true leadership will exist only in title. A leader that is technically qualified for the position, but lacks the confidence generated by self-efficacy, will find it difficult to lead others.

Often, self-confidence comes from a life-long process of developing the sense of an internal authority of who you are. It is developed by directly engaging life in a resilient and courageous way. It requires balancing the external demands of life, work, and family that seek to influence who you are and how you behave. Moreover, it is self-efficacy.

Internal authority comes from having developed the courage to self-define who you are and how you engage people, places, and life’s experiences. It is giving yourself permission to be your true authentic self in any circumstance. Albert Bandura described the sense of deep knowing this internal authority as self-efficacy.

What Is Self-Efficacy?

According to Bandura, self-efficacy is "the belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations." In other words, self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in a particular situation. Bandura described these beliefs as determinants of how people think, behave, and feel (1994).

The Role of Self-Efficacy1

Virtually all people can identify goals they want to accomplish, things they would like to change, and things they would like to achieve. However, most people also realize that putting these plans into action is not quite so simple. Bandura and others have found that an individual’s self-efficacy plays a major role in how goals, tasks, challenges, including crisis, failed projects, and scandals are approached.

Strong Sense of Self-Efficacy

People with a strong sense of self-efficacy:

  • View challenging problems as tasks to be mastered
  • Develop deeper interest in the activities in which they participate
  • Form a stronger sense of commitment to their interests and activities
  • Recover quickly from setbacks and disappointments

A strong sense of efficacy enhances personal accomplishment in many ways. People with high efficacy approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Such an efficacious outlook fosters interest and deep engrossment in activities. They set themselves challenging goals and maintain strong commitment to them. They maintain a task-diagnostic focus that guides effective performance. They heighten and sustain their efforts in the face of failure. They attribute failure to insufficient effort or deficient knowledge and skills that are acquirable. They quickly recover their sense of efficacy after failures or setbacks. They approach threatening situations with assurance that they can exercise control over them. Such an efficacious outlook produces personal accomplishments, reduces stress, and lowers vulnerability to depression.

Low Sense of Self-Efficacy

People with a weak sense of self-efficacy:

  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Believe that difficult tasks and situations are beyond their capabilities
  • Focus on personal failings and negative outcomes
  • Quickly lose confidence in personal abilities

People who have a low sense of efficacy in a given domain shy away from difficult tasks, which they perceive as personal threats. They have low aspirations and weak commitment to the goals they choose to pursue. They maintain a self-diagnostic focus rather than concentrate on how to perform successfully. When faced with difficult tasks, they dwell on their personal deficiencies, on the obstacles they will encounter, and on all kinds of adverse outcomes. They slacken their efforts and give up quickly in the face of difficulties. They are slow to recover their sense of efficacy following failure or setbacks. Because they diagnose insufficient performance as deficient aptitude, it does not require much failure for them to lose faith in their capabilities. They fall easy victim to stress and depression.

The multiple benefits of a sense of personal efficacy do not arise simply from the incantation of capability. Saying something should not be confused with believing it to be so. Simply saying that one is capable is not necessarily self-convincing that it is true. Self-efficacy beliefs are the product of a complex process of self-persuasion and a deep knowing that relies on cognitive processing of diverse sources of efficacy information conveyed enactively, vicariously, socially, and physiologically (A. Bandura, 1986). Once formed, efficacy beliefs contribute significantly to the level and quality of human functioning.

Sources of Self-Efficacy

How does self-efficacy develop? These beliefs begin to form in early childhood as children deal with a wide variety of experiences, tasks, and situations. However, the growth of self-efficacy does not end during youth, but continues to evolve throughout life as people acquire new skills, experiences, and understanding.
According to Bandura, there are four major sources of self-efficacy.

A new CEO was suddenly promoted without any transition between roles or assistance from the prior CEO. Little transference of information or role knowledge was provided. The suddenness of the promotion created a ripple in the organization with much disagreement with the selection. Blatant challenges to the CEO’s competency as well as right to the position were common. The organization struggled from a void in leadership while the CEO struggled to find confidence in the role. Self-efficacy waffled from brilliant vision of what could be to massive second-guessing. Once the CEO got over the shock and realized that some of the leadership would never accept the selection, a new team was built that could support the CEO. The CEO regained his sense of self and moved the organization into a long and successful tenure.

1. Mastery Experiences: Bandura believed that the most effective way of developing a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experiences." Performing a task successfully strengthens our sense of self-efficacy. However, failing to adequately deal with a task or challenge can undermine and weaken self-efficacy. A critical component of mastery is that it requires the leader to accurately assess what is factual versus what is imagination. When under immense stress, it is not always clear what the facts are.

2. Social Modeling: Witnessing other people successfully completing a task is another important source of self-efficacy. According to Bandura, seeing people similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort raises observers' beliefs that they too possess the capabilities to master comparable activities to succeed. For example, one client was not able to get her land-legs under her. He had successfully led the organization through a multi-year growth spurt that suddenly stopped as significant competition began to erode market share. It was suggested that the client meet with other CEO’s in related situations. One acquaintance became a mentor that suggested visiting the organization and providing some feedback. Besides the feedback, she shared her experiences including detailed description of actions taken. Thereafter the client reclaimed his competency and moved the organization into the direction to address the competition and streamline the organization to be more agile.

One client was struggling with getting a clear perspective of not only the market but in how to lead a change. We focused on past successes through an in-depth reflection process. After a brief but deep dive into past successes (and project failures), a deep knowing appeared that supported moving forward. As coach, the focus was on supporting the client to fully unravel what had led to prior successes and learning from project failures. As a result, the client seemed to complete a deep integration within himself that fortified his self-efficacy.

3. Social Persuasion: Bandura indicated that people could be persuaded to believe that they have the skills and capabilities to succeed. Consider a time when someone said something positive and encouraging that helped you achieve a goal. Getting verbal encouragement from others helps people overcome self-doubt and instead focus on giving their best effort to the task at hand.

4. Psychological Responses: Our own responses and emotional reactions to situations also play an important role in self-efficacy. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions, and stress levels can all impact how a person feels about their personal abilities in a particular situation. A person who becomes extremely nervous before speaking in public may develop a weak sense of self-efficacy in these situations. For example, one client tended to get tongue-tied when publically speaking. Rather than focus on the speech (and his fear of embarrassment), the focus became on telling an interesting story by being fully present to himself and to the story. His self-efficacy returned shortly after he began. He had realized that the story was as much the audience's (his direct reports) as it was his. He expressed how proud he was of their performance and flew through the presentation. Hence, it is not the sheer intensity of emotional and physical reactions that is important but rather how they are perceived and interpreted by the individual. By learning how to minimize stress and elevate mood when facing difficult or challenging tasks, people can improve their sense of self-efficacy.

Bullies and Persecutors

Some people may think that leaders who are overly aggressive in their communication and/or leadership style have strong confidence and therefore self-efficacy. When taken to an extreme, leaders who are overly aggressive are often referred to as bullies. Interestingly enough, people with strong efficacy (authentic confidence) do not have a need to be overly aggressive to get their goals accomplished. Being overly aggressive is actually a sign of a lack of confidence and low self-efficacy.

Executive Presence (Self-Efficacy)

People like to work with leaders whose self-efficacy reveals that they are truly confident in who they are and how they approach life. There is a natural tendency to trust people more when they appear confident in who they are and how they interact with the various daily challenges. For most of us, dealing with an authentically confident person helps assure us that the person is also competent. Generally, when a leader embodies strong self-efficacy and therefore exhibits confidence, it makes it easier to trust that leader, and people want to work with leaders they trust.

In reality, self-efficacy (and therefore authentic self-confidence) is a more important asset than skill, knowledge, or even experience. Without authentic confidence, you will find it difficult to make tough decisions, lead meetings with authority, get people to communicate with you candidly, and be open to feedback, particularly when it is of the constructive type. Without self-efficacy (and authentic self-confidence), you will second guess your decisions and find yourself becoming defensive, when challenged. Without well developed sel- efficacy (and therefore self-confidence), you may find yourself sadly lacking in one very important component of leadership: followers.

Coaching for Self-Efficacy

To support the understanding and how to reframe a breach in self-efficacy, in the following pages, there is a worksheet that can be used to guide the client through a deep reflective process that will in all likelihood lead to insights that will support the client to reclaim their sense of self and self-efficacy.


1Salvatore Maddi & Deborah Khoshaba developed a theory of resiliency that remarkably supports the concept of self-efficacy. Where self-efficacy is the deep knowing or belief in one self, resiliency is the acts that build from the self-efficacy to rise above any challenge, crisis, or possible failure to learn and move through the situation. See: Maddi & Khoshaba, Resilience at Work (2005) AMACOM.


Bandura, A. (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.

Bandura, A. (1992) Exercise of personal agency through the self-efficacy mechanisms. In R. Schwarzer (Ed.), Self-efficacy: Thought control of action. Washington, DC: Hemisphere.

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior,4. New York: Academic Press, pp. 71-81.

Bandura, A. (1995). Self-Efficacy in Changing Societies. Cambridge University Press.

Clance Pauline Rose , & Suzanne Imes. (Fall, 1978) The Imposter Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention, Psychotherapy Theory, Research and Practice Volume 15, #3, Fall 1978

Corkingdale, Gil. (2008) Embrace Your Inner Impostor, HBR, April 23.

Kets de Vries, Manfred F. R, ( September, 2005)The Dangers of Feeling Like a Fake, Harvard Business Review

Klein, Merom & Rod Napier (2003) The Courage to Act: 5 Factors of Courage to Transform Business

How Leaders Exhibit Self Efficacy and Authentic Confidence

Characterisitics Description Honest Answers/ Thoughts
Do you trust yourself? Can you listen to others without succumbing to peer or power pressures?

Can you make decisions not based on what you “should” do versus what you know is “right”?

Are you good counsel to yourself?
Do you stay engaged under any circumstances? Do you have a strong sense of internal authority, the right to decide for yourself, under any circumstances?

Can you listen to others without succumbing to peer or power pressures?
Are you happy? Do you feel positive about your ability to lead people and deal with daily challenges?

Do you have a “can do” attitude about whatever comes your way?

Do your team members appreciate working with an upbeat leader who holds a positive vision?
Do you have positive, productive relationships? Do you enter into positive, productive relationships?

Do you feel good about yourself, treat others well and in turn, are treated well by others?
Are you motivated and ambitious Do you set goals and are motivated to accomplish them?

Do you believe that the work you do is important and makes a difference in the company or even the world?
Do you enjoy life and laugh frequently? Do you see the humor, even in challenging situations, and have the ability to put things into perspective?

Do you laugh sooner and more often?
Are you open to risks or at least open to calculated risks? Do you confidently forge into the unknown and learn from your mistakes?

Do you stay in the thick of the play instead of safely mired on the sidelines?
Do you recognize success? Do you look for opportunities to genuinely recognize the success of others?

Are you able to openly receive compliments, never discounting the sender by saying, “I was just doing my job.”?
Do you accept feedback? Do you welcome feedback from others and put their ideas into action?

Do people keep coming to them with feedback and ideas for improvement, helping the leader continue to grow and develop?
Do you think for yourself, trusting a deep sense of who you are? Do you have a deep sense of your core values – what is right and wrong?

Are you open to feedback from others, while confidently forming your own opinion or pick your own course of action?

Are you easy to follow, because your words and actions are in alignment and consistent?

Adapted from

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