Confidently clothed wolf

NZIM’s capability development consultant Kieran Bird here discusses the importance of self-confidence and how to build it. But he also warns that the kind of confidence shown by Wolf of Wall Streetauthor and convicted fraudster Jordan Belfort is not what you should be looking for.

Liz Hayes of Australia’s 60 Minutes TV programme appeared somewhat bemused by Belfort’s reaction when she asked Belfort whether his verbal contract with Australian celebrity management company Fordham was an “attempt to hide the size” of his current income.

“No one has ever treated me as disrespectfully as you have,” he responded to Hayes. “You’ve got a lot of nerve boy I tell ya.” And he promptly got up and left the interview – only to return after he’d cooled down and figured his response wasn’t all that clever.

My question is: who’s got a lot of nerve? Apparently Louis E Dequine Jr, an engineer from Florida, doesn’t have quite enough. He was defrauded of nearly US$250,000 by Belfort’s investment firm. Dequine suffered a stroke due to the stress. He is one of 1513 victims of Belfort’s fraud, which totalled more than
US$100 million.

Belfort served just 22 months of his sentence for securities fraud and money laundering.
He has since paid back $243,000 to his victims. However the 2003 sentencing agreement demanded he pay half his income in restitution, while his known income from books, the movie and “motivational speaking” totalled US$1,767,203. To save you the calculation, he’s paid less than 14 percent of his income rather than 50%.

Belfort arrives in Auckland to tell his story on June 26. It’s a story of arrogance, dishonesty, greed and theft on a massive scale. It’s a story about damaging the lives of thousands of people.

This raises a question. What makes Belfort proud when he surely should be ashamed? Why, when so many people struggle with self-doubt, does the Wolf of Wall Street maintain his steely self-confidence?

A 2013 United Kingdom survey of 2000 women found that 92 percent confessed to having confidence ‘hang-ups’; 17 percent lacked the confidence to ask for a promotion, and 48 percent believed they would have progressed further in their careers if they were more self-confident. A 2013 Auckland Unitec survey of 1008 people listed “being confident with your personality, attitude and beliefs” as the second most important success factor for Kiwis.

Self-confidence is, for most people, largely situational. Most feel very confident dealing with familiar situations and individuals. They feel the opposite when dealing with danger. Self-confidence negatively affects most people but, for some it is almost overpowering, limiting their ability to be happy and productive.

So how can other people gain high levels of self-confidence?

Low self-confidence comes, primarily, from childhood experiences such as from parents who are overly critical.
Psychologists refer to “conditional love”, which is when affection is shown only when the child performs to the parents’ expectations. This leads to low self-esteem and, even as an adult, the need for others’ approval.

Research suggests this process can be reversed by focusing on values, weaknesses and strengths. Fear diminishes when we examine its major causes and use ‘systematic desensitisation’, repeating the action over and over. Focusing on growing strengths and achieving goals over a period of time gradually increases the ability to take on other challenges. This produces a virtual cycle of increasing ability and self-confidence.

In my opinion, the kind of self-confidence demonstrated by people like Jordan Belfort is unusual. It is usually called arrogance rather than self-confidence. Arrogance is undesirable and happens when the line is blurred between being self-confident on the one hand, and not caring about other people on the other.

NZIM has introduced a training programme to boost self-esteem and self-confidence without encouraging arrogance. It’s called the “Unassailable Self-Confidence” programme and you can find out more about it on NZIM’s website at

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