Confidence is defined as belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities; self-confidence; self-reliance; assurance, full trust (eDictionary.com). As parents of two young girls, my wife and I often talk about how can we help our daughters grow up to be confident adults. We believe this starts with building positive self-esteem.
But how do we foster their self-esteem while at the same time teaching them that there are rules — expected behaviors, and that the world truly does not revolve around them? That is so difficult as a parent, because at the time they are born, the world does revolve around that infant. They are fully dependent on us for their every need, and we dedicate all our time to meeting those needs. If we continue this behavior as they grow and do not teach them to be independent, they will suffer as adults (not to mention we will suffer as parents of those children).
As leaders we face a not-too-dissimilar task with those we lead. This is not to liken adult professionals to children; it is only to draw similarities in the responsibility we hold as leaders and parents. This task of building up confidence in others is a requirement of any great leader. When I think about how to build confidence in others, my mind immediately goes to how NOT to build confidence. Why am I so quick to be able to rattle off what does not breed confidence? Because I know personally what demotivates me and undermines my confidence. Tearing others down, punishing failure, and berating others are just a few ways we can degrade not only the confidence of that person but the entire team.
Why is it when we flip to what DOES build confidence, we hesitate a bit? That is because we have to know a person (our staff) to understand how to motivate them. This is no different in my personal life. I have twins, but they are both individuals; what builds confidence in one is the not the same for the other. So when we talk about building confidence in people on our teams, we have to invest in knowing them first. Some people are motivated by being the best. Being the best builds their confidence and makes them work harder. Others are motivated by the purpose of their work and build confidence not by being the best, but by working on things that really matter. And for some, confidence is built in being allowed to fail and try different solutions without feeling that you as the leader will judge them for taking risks.
Confidence cannot be bought, and it cannot be demanded. It must be fostered. As leaders, we have to invest in those we lead. The right level of confidence on a team has a direct impact on how that team functions and what they are able to deliver. As human beings I think we each struggle with confidence — at times we can feel less than confident about our abilities, and at other times we can be over confident.
As leaders, the more we can be vulnerable to those we lead and show that we understand this struggle, the more authentic our relationships will be. Bill [Rieger] and I talk about this all the time, but the bottom line is you have to a relatable to be a great leader. Authentic relationships are what build strong alliances and allow those we lead to feel confident in what they do.
A good leader inspires people to have confidence in the leader, a great leader inspires people to have confidence in themselves.
– Lao Tzu