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  • Writer's pictureDr Kiran Chitta

Self-efficacy is the foundation for success



‘Psychological procedures, whatever their form, alter the level and strength of self-efficacy…. expectations of personal efficacy determine whether coping behavior will be initiated, how much effort will be expended, and how long it will be sustained…’ [1].


These are the words of Albert Bandura, a pioneer in social psychology.


Self-efficacy is at the heart of performance, and the ability to respond to change, complexity, and uncertainty. It is therefore often the explicit or implicit focus of a performance coaching intervention [2].


Self-efficacy is key to mental health and effective individual pursuit of goals in several domains[3], also supporting organizational health and organizational performance[4].


So, given it is so important, let's be clear on what is meant by self-efficacy.


Vieira & Palmer (2019) have stated that self-efficacy refers to a person’s beliefs concerning his or her ability to successfully perform a given task or behaviour. It is developed through four primary channels:


· mastery or successful experiences

· vicarious experiences such as role models

· social influences such as positive feedback, and

· inferences based on our psycho-physiological and emotional states [5].


In an excellent paper on coaching culture at work, Alison Whybrow & Siobhan O’Riordan argue [6], ‘a key premise in cognitive behavioural work is that we can become skilled thinkers, becoming aware ‘in the moment’ of how our beliefs and assumptions are limiting our perspectives or choices’. This awareness can improve self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is not about being delusional or unrealistic in our own self-assessment of our abilities or talents. However, it does enable us to make best and highest use of our talents to pursue our goals.


International research indicates that self-efficacy also plays a vital role in managing stress, burnout, and performance outcomes. The weight of the evidence therefore suggests strongly that self-efficacy is central to performance coaching at work.


An interesting study in 2018, researchers explored the hypothesis that self-efficacy helps prevent job burnout. In a two-wave study on 416 Italian military cadets, they demonstrated that ‘self-efficacy in managing negative emotions at work represents an important mechanism linking emotional stability level to burnout symptoms’[7].


Subsequent research has found evidence to suggest that reflected self-efficacy, which is one’s perception of how others assess one’s ability to perform a task, may predict creative performance over and above self-assessed self-efficacy [8]. So, how you believe others see your abilities matters to your performance, perhaps as much as how you see yourself. If you believe - without adequate data - that others have negative views about your own abilities at work, this may itself lead you towards a spiral of underperformance.


Quite recent research has shed light on the role of psychological beliefs on ‘prosocial dynamics’ in predicting organizational performance, exploring employees’ beliefs in their ‘inner job-related resources’ (Occupational Efficacy – OE), and Collective Efficacy (CE), finding that prosocial behaviours may lead to higher performance and are influenced by both individual and collective efficacy. This implies that performance coaching which is embedded into an organizational culture would develop both individual and collective efficacy.


Researchers have also found there is a strong influence of self-efficacy on work performance, and which is mediated also by work engagement. In this context, self-efficacy has been found to be significantly correlated with work engagement, and work engagement in turn significantly correlated with work performance [9]. So, there are likely to be close mutual reinforcing relationships between self-efficacy, engagement, and performance in workplaces. It makes sense, therefore, from a business point of view, to invest in the self-efficacy of people at work.


As Anthony Grant argues this is not about overtly trying to change or ‘rewire’ the brain so much as addressing psychological factors that have been shown through research to support work performance [10]. Performance and solutions focused approaches – which address the psychological factors which underpin performance - have been found to improve self-efficacy and in turn job performance in healthcare[11] [12], for example.


So, there is evidence that psychological performance coaching undertaken in a robust way can and does have an impact in occupational settings.


The specific tools and methods which allow this are captured in a growing body of research literature on a cognitive behavioural approach, and these include:


· reduction of performance interfering beliefs

· increasing performance enhancing beliefs

· use of solutions focused questions

· resilience enhancing imagery (these are metaphors or images that a person can use to         visualize successful performance and help to manage performance interfering beliefs)

· creating performance related goals

· action planning, and

· ongoing monitoring of outcomes[13].


These tools are also conductive to an iterative approach that treats psychological performance coaching as a cycle of learning. Clearly, ‘gestalt’ practice – which emphasizes here-and-now experience - also carries this possibility, with its natural emphasis on building awareness of one's 'cycle of experience'. Psychodynamic methods also offer interesting and powerful ways to address subliminal barriers to change in individuals and groups, and can work seamlessly alongside cognitive behavioural and gestalt coaching approaches.


My own experience has taught me to adopt a flexible, integrated, or 'multi-modal' stance. This makes best use of several different approaches, and a wide range of interventions, to help people and organizations achieve their goals and fulfil their potential.


We are best able to help clients deal with complexity and bring about change, when we have breadth, depth and agility in our own repertoire as practitioners.

[1] Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. p. 91


[2] Baron, L., & Morin, L. (2010). The impact of executive coaching on self-efficacy related to management softskills. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 31(1), 18–38.


[3] Mouton, A. R. (2016). Performance coaching in sport, music, and business: From Gallwey to Grant, and the promise of positive psychology. International Coaching Psychology Review, 11(2), 129–141.


[4] Yaakobi, E., Weisberg, J. (2020). Organizational Citizenship Behavior Predicts Quality, Creativity, and Efficiency Performance: The Roles of Occupational and Collective EfficaciesFrontiers in Psychology, Vol. 11, p1-18.


[5] Vieira, D.A. & Palmer, S. (2019). Self-efficacy within coaching and coaching psychology. In S. Palmer & A. Whybrow (Eds, 2nd Edition). The Handbook of Coaching Psychology: A Guide for Practitioners. Hove:Routledge. p. 25-33.


[6] Whybrow, A., & O'Riordan, S. (2012). Developing a coaching culture at work. In M. Neenan & S. Palmer (Eds.) Cognitive Behavioural Coaching in Practice: An Evidence Based Approach (p. 203–236). Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. p. 233


[7] Alessandri, G., Perinelli, E., De Longis, E., Schaufeli, W. B., Theodorou, A., Borgogni, L., Caprara, G. V., & Cinque, L. (2018). Job burnout: The contribution of emotional stability and emotional self‐efficacy beliefs. Journal of Occupational & Organizational Psychology, 91(4), 823–851. https://doi.org/10.1111/joop.12225. p. 823


[8] Hyunjee H. K., Jin N. C., & Butt, A. N.. (2019). Reflected self-efficacy and creativity: The power of being recognized by others toward individual creative performance. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 47(8), 1–13. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.8223


[9] Tian, G., Wang, J., Zhang, Z., & Wen, Y. (2019). Self-efficacy and work performance: The role of work engagement. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 47(12), 1–7. https://doi.org/10.2224/sbp.8528


[10] Grant, A. M. (2015). Coaching the brain: Neuro-science or neuro-nonsense? Coaching Psychologist, 11(1), 21–27.


[11] Pradarelli, J. C., Yule, S., & Smink, D. S. (2020). Performance Coaching for Practicing Surgeons Enhancing Clinical Performance, Well-Being, and Trainee Experience. Journal of Surgical Education, 77(3), 495–498. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsurg.2020.01.014


[12] Mache, S., Bernburg, M., Baresi, L., & Groneberg, D. A. (2016). Evaluation of self-care skills training and solution-focused counselling for health professionals in psychiatric medicine: a pilot study. International Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice, 20(4), 239–244. https://doi.org/10.1080/13651501.2016.1207085


[13] Neenan, M. & Dryden, W. (2000). Essential Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy. London: Whur. See also - Neenan, M. and Dryden, W. (2002). Life Coaching: A Cognitive Behavioural Approach. London: Brunner-Routledge. And Neenan, M. & Palmer, S. (2001). Cognitive Behavioural Coaching, Stress News. Vol. 13, No. 3.

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