Leading with Self-Efficacy (Leading from Within) – Practical Strategies

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Leading with Self-Efficacy (Leading from Within) – Practical Strategies

Mrs. Grace Baston


“People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property; there is a huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self efficacy bounce back from failures; they approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong.” Albert Bandura, Self-Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1997.

We are told that one of the most deleterious legacies of the colonial experience is a crippling self-doubt in the colonized people.  We are plagued by a lack of trust in our own ability to act effectively and even after decades of political independence, still look to powers outside ourselves for validation and the solutions to our problems. If Bandura is correct, then leaders in our Caribbean context have to confront and overcome not just a personal, but a culturally reinforced sense of insecurity, in order to arrive at the self-efficacy necessary for leadership. There are no shortcuts or simple formulas for undoing the result of centuries of indoctrination, but there are internal resources on which we can draw to nurture our confidence, our self-reliance and our faith in our own capacity to effect transformation.

Self-Efficacy – Definition and Contributing Factors

The notion of self-efficacy is probably most associated with the work of psychologist Albert Bandura in his social cognitive theory. According to Bandura, self-efficacy is one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or to accomplish a task.  

Bandura’s theory identifies four sources of self-efficacy: the experience of success wrought by my own effort, the confidence I draw from seeing others similar to me succeed, the encouragement and affirmation of others, and my interpretation of my physiological responses to stressful situations.

He declares that the first factor is the most powerful – nothing succeeds like success. We experience this with our students all the time. Once they begin to believe that they are good at a subject, they will be confident in their approach to it, and as a result are more likely to do well at it.

The second, he says, is not as powerful but very important. It is learning vicariously; i.e. through observing the experience of others. When a school boy athlete from rural Jamaica sees the achievements of Usain Bolt, it gives him confidence that he perhaps could accomplish the same.

The third we know is extremely effective. The feedback we receive from parents, teachers, bosses, can have a profound impact on our perception of our own capabilities. Our beliefs about what we can and cannot accomplish are heavily influenced by the messages we receive from those around us.

School Leadership and Self-Efficacy

So how strong is our perceived self-efficacy as school leaders?  Are we confident in our ability to effect change, to persuade others to follow a vision, to raise the funds we need, to get our teachers on board with new developments in curriculum delivery, to get our parents to contribute and to commit to partnering with us? These are all daunting tasks for us as school leaders and the question is: Are we undertaking them with a strong sense of self-efficacy or are we doubtful, insecure, afraid of failure, feeling inadequately prepared. It is important that we are conscious of the lack of resources but the question is ‘do we allow this to cripple us and be debilitated by anxiety?

If the latter is true, then how do we proceed?  First of all, if you are in this position, join the club. Take some consolation in knowing that feelings of inadequacy, anxiety and fear of failure abound in us as leaders. So how do we fix this? One solution is to go in search of Bandura’s sources of self-efficacy i.e. looking for inspiration from our personal past successes, looking for models around us who are succeeding or looking for mentors and coaches who will encourage us. That is certainly one way to approach the problem, and many of us have grown tremendously in our confidence as leaders by drawing on these sources. I would, however, like to suggest that the most powerful and reliable source of self-efficacy lies within us. Self-Efficacy is to be found in our passion, creativity and the ability to reframe problems into possibilities.

Passion, Creativity and Reframing

Dewitt Jones, a professional photographer for National Geographic Magazine and motivational speaker, uses the metaphor of photography to talk about our approach to life. He describes passion as the result of ‘falling in love with the world’. He says that when you allow yourself to fall in love with the world, “you put yourself in touch with an enormous energy which is called passion”. According to him, once we are connected to this passion: we can find extraordinary solutions to our challenges; we come at the world from a perspective of abundance rather than scarcity; we can see that there is always more than one right answer to a problem; we become excited about possibilities and we are always looking for the next right answer. In sum, we learn how to look at problems and re-frame them as possibilities.

In my role as principal, I have had to reframe many problems as opportunities in order to find the right solution and that sometimes meant breaking with traditional patterns of thinking and operating. One example was how we solved the problem of the constant trespassing and pilfering that the school endured from the residents of a neighbouring, underserved community. Historically the school experienced the community as hostile and a threat to be kept out by stronger, higher fences. Something had to be done urgently. The school was not in a position to contribute financially to the many needs of the community, but we had a playfield that they wanted to use and very bright students whom we wanted to encourage to participate in community service. So instead of building a higher boundary wall, we made a door in the wall through which the community was invited to enter the campus at mutually agreed on times, and set up a homework programme in which their children were tutored by my senior students. Some people thought it was foolish and risky but we have never regretted the decision to reach out to that community in search of mutual trust and respect. The problem of pestiferous neighbours got reframed as an opportunity to carry out our mission of character formation for our students and to build community relations.

Passion – the fuel for self-efficacy

I return to the idea of passion being the greatest influence for self-efficacy. Simply put, you will be more confident in your ability to succeed at doing something that you love doing. According to John C Maxwell in his publication “The Leadership Handbook – 26 critical lessons every leader needs”: “Following your passion is the key to finding your potential.” He asserts that talent, opportunity, knowledge and a great team are all key factors in determining success. But none of them makes a great leader, or even a successful leader. It is passion that makes the difference.

“Passion is an incredible asset for any person, but especially for leaders. It keeps us going when others quit. It becomes contagious and influences others to follow us. It pushes us through the toughest times and gives us energy we did not know we possessed. It fuels us.”(p 44)

If you are to be self-efficacious then:

  • Rediscover your passion for your work
  • Make time in your daily routine to nurture your own growth through personal reflection, professional reading or conversation
  • Approach every situation from a place of abundance rather than scarcity – from a space of gratitude and possibility rather than from one of complaint and negativity
  • View the world from different perspectives and realize that often there is more than one right answer
  • Reframe a problem into a possibility
  • Stop focusing on mistakes and always be on the lookout for new solutions – look even in unexpected places
  • Break your patterns of thinking and behaving to allow for growth and innovation

Spirituality – a rich source for nurturing self-efficacy

We live in an age where it is increasingly unscholarly to talk about God and the role of faith in our professional lives as educators. Yet, research in some of the most atheistic or agnostic learning communities is having to come to terms with the powerful role of spirituality in human functioning. Human beings have a spiritual dimension, and we sell ourselves short if we do not harness the power of that dimension of ourselves. For many of us, our greatest source of self-efficacy growth is our faith, our belief in a power higher than ourselves. Certainly for Christians, our optimism, our hope, our confidence, our self-efficacy has no greater source than the wisdom, goodness, and greatness of our creative God. It is through Him that we believe that can do all things, and whose grace “working in us can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine”.

 “What one fool has done, another can learn to do equally well or even better.”

A wise nun once said to me, when I confessed my trepidation about assuming the role of principal of such a big school with my limited experience and relative youth, “What one fool has done, another can learn to do equally well or better.” I know that she did not think herself or me a fool, but it was her way of saying that there was no magic to providing good leadership for a school. You throw yourself into it as one who love your work and learn what you need to learn in order to lead effectively.

I have remembered that advice all my professional life and it has kept me humble, inspired me to believe in myself and assured me in many moments of doubt. What one fool has done, another can do equally well or even better. There is something about fools that make them good for leadership. Fools are not afraid of taking risks, of making mistakes, of laughing at themselves. It is their optimism and openness to new ideas that make them ‘rush in’. The fool only has to be in touch with her passion and trust her own creativity, in order to lead with self-efficacy.



Everyday Creativity with Dewitt Jones; produced by Across Borders Media.1999

Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press. (Reprinted in H. Friedman [Ed.], Encyclopedia of mental health. San Diego: Academic Press, 1998).

Maxwell, J. (2008).The Leadership Handbook. Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins Christian Publishing



Profile of Writer

Mrs. Catherine Grace Baston is a devoted educator with over thirty years in the field. Mrs. Baston received her formal training at the University of the West Indies, Mona where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Theology and later a Diploma in Education.  She subsequently attended the Columbia University New York, USA to complete a Master of Arts in Philosophy and Education. Mrs. Baston’s career began at the Alpha Academy in Kingston Jamaica where she ably taught Spanish, English and Religion. Mrs. Baston later ascended to the post of Vice Principal and Principal at the Alpha Academy. She has also served as lecturer at the Shortwood Teachers’ College and the University of Technology, Jamaica.

Mrs. Baston is also very actively engaged at the community level. She sits as Member of the Board of the Mount St. Joseph Catholic High School, Sts. Peter and Paul Preparatory and the Convent of Mercy Academy. She is also the Director of the Board of Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE). Mrs. Baston is currently the Principal of the Campion College; a post she has held for over eleven years.

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