What Is Self-Efficacy and How Does It Relate to Leadership?

What Is Self-Efficacy and How Does It Relate to Leadership? | Jennifer Spoelma

Efficacy is all about ability and effectiveness. It means the ability to create or produce a desired outcome. Self-efficacy, then, refers to your own ability or effectiveness in a given situation. But like many other words that start with the ‘self’ prefix (self-esteem, self-consciousness, self-awareness, etc.) self-efficacy is more about your belief of your ability rather than a true limit.

That’s an important distinction.

What you believe about your own efficacy has a significant impact on your psychology. It influences how your brain engages when stress or obstacles come up. Believing you can overcome a given challenge actually initiates the coping behaviors needed for you to do so.

Put simply, Henry Ford was spot on. “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.”

Self-efficacy helps you follow through on a given task

Self-efficacy has another psychological benefit. People with high self-efficacy also put in the amount of work necessary to achieve the given goal. Therefore, they’re more likely to accomplish it. This benefit is may be more intuitive that it seems. Here are some everyday examples you likely can relate to:

  • Your friend says they “can’t cook,” but then they get a meal service like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh. Suddenly, with the ingredients and instructions in front of them, their beliefs about their ability changes. They believe they can cook the meal, so they follow the instructions carefully. The result? A delicious, home cooked meal!
  • A project you’ve been wanting to start feels daunting and impossible, like starting a blog. But then you find some resources or talk to a friend who helps you make a plan. With the steps laid out in front of you, you find motivation to build and launch your blog!
  • Your child is frustrated over a math problem and feels defeated. “I’ll never understand division!” they complain. But then you show them that they’ve already solved three similar problems successfully. Your child feels encouraged, and starts to believe in their ability again. They decide to try again and correctly solve the division problem! (In an ideal situation. Your child might also continue to throw a fit.)

In a nutshell, self-efficacy keeps you from being a quitter.

Listen to Feminine Foresight #13 on AnchorApple Podcasts or Google Play!

How does self-efficacy connect to leadership?

Quitting doesn’t feel good. When we quit we’re usually left with regret, feeling insecure and like we let ourselves down. Those are things I don’t want you to feel, ever. But especially not when it comes to your leadership experiences. That’s why I decided to focus this week’s Feminine Foresight topic on leadership self-efficacy.

So what is leadership self-efficacy?

I bet you have it figured out, but it’s your belief that you can successfully lead. Possessing high leadership self-efficacy impacts both your own leadership performance, and the performance of the group that you’re leading. That makes it a big deal.

As a leader, your thoughts, motivation, perseverance, well-being, vulnerabilities and choices are all affected by your self-efficacy. Essentially, every part of the leadership experience is affected.

People with high leadership self-efficacy cope better when challenges arise and when they encounter pushback. They stay calm and exercise self-control even when in very stressful situations. In addition, they also are more willing to put in the effort needed to lead well and take care of their group’s needs.

I’m sure you’d agree with me that that’s the type of leader you’d like to be and to follow yourself.

How do you know if you have leadership self-efficacy?

Laura Paglis and Stephen Green have studied leadership self-efficacy in depth. They created a model that offers a breakdown for conceptualizing leadership self-efficacy in a practical way. The model separates components of general leaderships tasks into the three buckets of: direction setting, gaining followers’ commitment and overcoming obstacles.

Leadership Self-Efficacy for Direction Setting

Direction setting speaks to a leader’s ability to understand their leadership setting and plan accordingly. Self-efficacy for direction setting can be measured by how confident you are in your ability to problem solve or to gather and understand knowledge related to your field.

Your self-beliefs in this area can be influenced by previous successes or failures in developing plans and problem solving, as well as your general beliefs about your intelligence.

Leadership Self-Efficacy for Overcoming Obstacles

Overcoming obstacles is a non-stop job for leaders. Whether it’s overcoming personal obstacles of self-motivation and limitations, or obstacles that face the group at large. Specific skills that are related to the task of overcoming obstacles are: ability to pivot, serving others, building momentum, overseeing work and taking action when needed. Self control and drive are also enormously important skills.

If you are a more action-oriented person that has self-motivation and flexibility, you likely have high self-efficacy for overcoming obstacles.

Leadership Self-Efficacy for Gaining Commitment

Gaining commitment is foundational for leadership. After all, if no one is committed to your cause, who are you leading? The ability to gain commitment relies heavily on interpersonal skills. For example, how well are you able to relate to others? Can you effectively challenge and guide other people? Are you a clear communicator? Do people feel like the can trust you, and believe that you have their best interest in mind?

All of these skills can be practiced in every interaction you have with another human. If you have high self-efficacy for gaining commitment, you’d probably describe yourself as a natural ‘people person’ and likely have strong relationships with others.

It’s common to have higher self-efficacy in one or two of these buckets. If that’s the case for you, I encourage you to dig into the bucket(s) of leadership tasks you feel less confident in. Where do those doubts and insecurities stem from? Past experiences? Lack of good examples?

Self-awareness of your insecurities is a great starting point for working through them. In the coming weeks, I’ll share more tools to help you improve your leadership self efficacy. For now, take some time to reflect on where you’re at regarding direction setting, overcoming obstacles and gaining commitment.

Which area of leadership do you feel like you have the highest self-efficacy? Which area do you feel needs the most improvement?

Works Cited
Stajkovic, A. D. & Luthans, F. (1998). "Self-efficacy and work-related performance: A meta-analysis". Psychological Bulletin. 2: 240–261.
Laura L. Paglis, & Green, S. (2002). Leadership Self-Efficacy and Managers' Motivation for Leading Change. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 23(2), 215-235. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy2.library.arizona.edu/stable/4093732