Confidence is the Key to TSSE

By Ollie Field

Imagine this scenario. You recently landed a job with an outstanding company in your field (see image below).

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As part of the onboarding procedure new hires take part in a company retreat. You know it includes physical activity which makes your nervous because, to put it nicely, you aren’t the most coordinated or athletic individual in the group.

Surprise! It’s an adventure challenge course that involves ropes, climbing, and heights to encourage communication, leadership, trust, and community-building. The company splits into four teams and each team needs a leader. The activity makes you uncomfortable because you’ve never done a challenge course before and think that someone else might have more skills to succeed as a leader. Your thoughts…

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You have two options…

Option A: Put yourself out there and volunteer as a leader. This would separate you from rest of the new hires and give you more visibility with the company. It would show that even though you might not have the strongest challenge course skills, you have strong leadership abilities.

Option B: Choose not to risk it and let someone else step up. After all, you’ve never done a challenge course before and you don’t know if you’ll be able to lead a group through something so difficult and unpredictable.

According to a study conducted by Amy Dickerson and Mary Anne Taylor, women are more likely to pick Option B. Their findings showed that women who are less confident in their abilities are more likely to self-select out of the leader task (Option A) and choose the subordinate task (Option B).

Research says that women are often times thought of as less effective leaders than men. They are commonly perceived as lacking  assertiveness, strong organizational skills, and emotional stability. And what happens when women do exhibit these traits? Eagly, Karau, and Makhijani found that they are viewed negatively by others.

Alright, let’s bring in a new term here.

Task-specific self-efficacy (TSSE). This is one’s self-assessed ability to do a specific something that contains ambiguous, unpredictable, and stressful elements…bringing us back to the challenge course.

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Dickerson and Taylor found that women can be affected by negative beliefs and perceptions of others, leading to negative self-efficacy that can hurt your career.

How? Well, negative self-efficacy can lead one to be less likely to take risks or take visible projects, two actions that can further your career.

Dickerson and Taylor’s  study gave women three pairs of managerial-type leadership tasks and asked them to select one task from each pair. The catch…one task was a leadership task and the other was a follower task.

Women with high TSSE who believed they had the leadership abilities were more likely to choose the leadership task. Those who were less confident with negative TSSE were more likely to choose the follower task.


What is the take-away? If women do not 14681-ellen-degeneres-quotes.jpgbelieve they are skilled at specific task, they may cut their overall leadership ability short. What’s the alternative? Despite the fact that you may not have experience with a specific task, consider the possibility that your overall leadership capabilities are strong enough for you to figure it out.

Do not let yourself and your own perceptions of yourself hold you back from opportunities and possible success. You are competent. If you think you can’t do something, figure it out!

Now go out there and kick some ass!

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