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Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

Three Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic


So, here’s the scenario: You’re the newest member of a leadership or management team. Today is your first regular leadership team meeting. It’s that part of the meeting where you go around the physical or virtual table and everyone reports out for five minutes or so on the latest and greatest things happening in their part of the world. As it happens, your seat at the table positions you so you’re the next to last person to report out. There are eight people ahead of you so that gives you about 40 minutes to do what?

That’s right – not listen to a word that anyone else is saying. That’s because you’re listening instead to that little voice inside your head that’s saying, “Oh, man, you are in trouble. You’ve got nothing. Everyone of these people know more than you do. They’re more experienced than you are. They’re smarter than you are. Geesh, they’re even better looking than you are.”

Having read a lot of the research on this topic, I can tell you what the clinicians call this inner critic voice. They call it the “itty, bitty sh***y committee.”

It might be a leadership team meeting, a big presentation, a tough conversation or any number of situations. If you’re a leader in any capacity, the likelihood is that itty bitty committee is going to shout at you at some point. The problem, of course, is that in the same way that dogs smell fear, your colleagues can smell a lack of confidence. As I write in “The Next Level,” leadership begins with picking up confidence and letting go of doubt. How do you silence that inner critic so you can show up with the kind of confidence that compels people to follow your lead?

Here are three ideas:

  • Do Your Homework. More often than not, the situations that cause your knees to knock and your inner critic to speak up are fairly predictable. If you look at your calendar for the next week or the next month, you can probably spot a few items that make your palms clammy When you do, commit yourself to doing some homework in advance. Ask the people that have been there before for their advice.
  • Visualize Your Picture. Doing things for the very first time can make anyone nervous. The same is true even when you’ve been there before but the stakes are high. Get yourself into the zone the same way world class athletes do. Visualize. To do so, ask yourself two questions. What does a successful outcome look like and how do I need to show up to make that outcome likely? The more detail in your answer the better. When you get to the real thing, you’ll feel like you’ve been there already.
  • Dispute Your Critic. If, after doing your homework and visualizing your picture, your itty bitty committee still chimes in, dispute it. Recognize the voice and (silently) respond, “Really, what’s the evidence for that?” or “That doesn’t square up with my track record up until now.”

That last tip leads to one more bonus tip – believe you should be there. The likelihood is that you’re in that stressful situation because someone else believed you could handle it.

What are your favorite ways to silence your inner critic?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

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