The Importance of Self-Efficacy

A large part of successful leadership is being able to empower people to “do their best”. Visionary leaders understand the importance of delegating important work to employees for the purpose of building self-efficacy on teams, and the development of a cultural approach to performance improvement.

Self-efficacy is most commonly defined as an individual's belief in his or her capacity to execute behaviors necessary to produce specific performance objectives. It reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment. This is different than self-confidence in that speaks to one’s belief in his or her self-worth and likelihood of succeeding in a given task.

The concept of self-efficacy helps shed light on how people look at trying new experiences in a profound way. It is also an approach to organizing teams that offers managers of people a framework to establish ever-rising standards of behavior and success in organizations.

Leaders with pronounced self-efficacy seem to have a higher level of "commitment" to completing tasks once they take them on, compared to people who find themselves lower on that scale. When leading people in organizations, it is not enough to have self-confidence in one’s technical abilities to achieve success.

According to renowned leadership coach Richard Seaman, adopting an "approach" behavior, seeking challenges and persevering with tasks are all qualities of high achievers and people who have high self-efficacy. Below are some examples of how to do this:

Below is a list of ways leaders can increase self-efficacy in organizations:

  • Improve training and professional development practices

  • Improve leadership and mentoring practices

  • Display confidence in your colleagues regularly

  • Systematize coaching strategies

  • Recruit employees with high self-efficacy

This has a direct relationship to how people see themselves, in terms of their self confidence and belief that they can accomplish certain things. At the same time, the opposite can also be true. 

In Albert Bandura's book Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, the author tries to illustrate the points noted above by examining the efforts by minority groups to encourage "pride in racial characteristics," as demonstrated in the term "Black is Beautiful." When a person's "belief" in one's self and one's self worth are knocked down consistently from different corners, a that person's self-efficacy can fall.


Interestingly, there are some that argue that past performance has an influence on self image. So, some people with low self-efficacy, who tend to avoid new challenges, give up easily or become anxious with tasks, may actually harbor some of those "insecure" feelings because of some outside stimuli that contributed to a lowering of self image.

From a practical standpoint, these levels of "security" vs. "insecurity" often serve as the barometer for how people might approach new experiences in the workplace. So, it stands to reason that if one of your employees has been given consistent negative feedback for how she delivers PowerPoint presentations, that stimulus is going to help foster anxiety within her the next time she has to present in front of executives in your organization.

As a leader, I've had to learn from a number of experiences that "self doubt" is the quickest way to get other people to believe that you can't do something. A healthy belief in one's abilities or self-worth helps set the stage for the adoption of a more confident approach to tackling problems.

Of course, overconfidence (the over toggling of self-efficacy) needs to be monitored and taken into consideration when evaluating employee ability and performance. The Delta between a person’s expected performance and his actual performance is where overconfidence can be an indication of whether self-efficacy has spilled over into the territory of overconfidence, which can negatively impact performance.

But, establishing a culture of leadership where appropriate praise for achievement and constant ratcheting up of expectations can positively support the self-efficacy of individuals in an organization, and help overall performance of the group.