Psychologist spells out how successful businesspeople grow a vital skill: confidence.

New Zealand's notorious "tall poppy" syndrome can be a disincentive to businesspeople who need to grow confidence in their own abilities to succeed, says renowned psychologist Sara Chatwin.

Chatwin, who is partnering with business platform MYOB on a New Zealand Herald content series showing how successful businesspeople are usually those who have boosted their confidence, says the distinctive modest and self-effacing Kiwi can be a good trait.

"We are often modest and self-effacing," she says. "Some of the most confident and self-assured people I have known are very modest, lovely, quietly-spoken, contemplative types – but they have vision, positivity, energy and commitment.

"They are not negative, small-minded people who push that negativity at others."


Chatwin is a devotee of her self-developed "Three Ds" blueprint for growing confidence from our successes. While she enjoys the modest Kiwi psyche, also says "we have to be careful in New Zealand".

"We are people who usually don't sing our praises from every pulpit," she says.

"But because we are small and geographically isolated, we need to be careful we do not become small-minded, tall-poppy people. We shouldn't be that someone who is not happy because someone else is really good at something. We don't seem to deal too well with that."

Sara Chatwin, psychologist. Photo / NZ Herald
Sara Chatwin, psychologist. Photo / NZ Herald

The tall poppy-ists could also help hold back business people, she says, with that unspoken social rule that successful people should not get too full of themselves. Those people needing to grow their confidence can be restricted when the code of self-effacement becomes self-denial.

Confidence is part of the life-blood of business success, she says: "If you are confident, you are putting that out there to every potential client and customer. If you choose to believe in yourself and what you are doing, and in doing it well, that transmits itself in volume to clients – they can see and feel what they will get from you and what you can do for them.

"That's where the Three Ds come in – Desire, Drive and Due diligence."

While the tall poppy syndrome might act as a handbrake on some who needed to grow their confidence, a more usual scenario was businesspeople simply lacking it. All that is needed, she says, are some simple rules:

Desire – "Success is all about desire and commitment. It is people saying, 'I really want to do this' and identifying a high level of commitment that will get them to be exactly what they want to be and do what they want to do."


Drive – "This is the energy and enthusiasm that comes from identifying that desire and turns the focus from dreaming big to creating a plan of practical steps to make it happen. It's when people take that first step towards their goals – and then they find that they have this real energy; they are positive and fully engaged and they are just going for it. They need to harness and channel that energy to achieve what they want to achieve."

Chatwin says collaboration is also an important part of growing confidence in the ability to succeed: "Surrounding yourself with the right people, the A team, is also vital. Bring in people who are competent and supportive. They can help you along the path to success and if they are confident people, that can only help further."

Due diligence – "All successful businesspeople say that, when they are asked about their success, they adhered to a plan. This is all about finessing that plan. It's when you really research, validate and refine the plan so you know exactly what you want to do and how to do it. Due diligence done well will uncover any show stoppers early to avoid nasty surprises down the track. You will find your confidence is at a spiking high – because you know, having done your due diligence, that you can achieve your goal.

"You say, 'Right, I really want to do this, I've got the energy, I've got the people, I've got the framework… now I really have to put things in place to succeed – and produce what you could say is the fourth D: Delivery."

Chatwin says there are simple, complementary ways to grow one's confidence:

  • "Get in front of confident people as much as you can; it rubs off on you."
  • "Ask successful people lots of questions about how they made it and use their template."
  • "Do things that make you feel good about yourself – it works wonders."
  • "Get in a positive frame of mind and keep it that way."

"We are all different; we all have different genetic pre-dispositions and not everyone is hard wired to be confident. But you can grow, build and foster your confidence – and it comes from those simple steps, the Three Ds, which are all about arming yourself with the tools to really believe in yourself and what you want to do."