Confidence is the cornerstone of visionary leadership. If you can’t exhibit enough confidence in your own vision, then you can’t really expect others to follow you. However, there is a difference between perceived confidence and real confidence.
For a leader, a bit of self-doubt is fine. In fact, it may lead to better decisions. Why? A bit of self-doubt makes you humble, ready to listen to others, more prudent, and less likely to succumb to baseless overconfidence.
However, if your self-doubt flourishes, it can paralyze you and impair your ability to lead. I recently read an interesting book What Keeps Leaders Up at Night by Nicole Lipkin where she drew my focus on something called self-efficacy. Psychologist Albert Bandura defined the term of self-efficacy as one’s belief in their own ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task.
People with strong self-efficacy believe that if they work hard enough, and put all their focus on an activity, they will succeed. People with strong self-efficacy are also more likely to withstand pressure. They brush over physiological signs of stress as unrelated to their ability to perform the task. Therefore they show more resiliency.
People with weak self-efficacy, on the other hand, interpret any signs of being under stress as their own inability to properly finish the task, thus lowering the ability in fact. They are more likely to succumb to the pressure, to quit, to fail.
If you have a weak sense of self-efficacy, you tend to avoid challenging tasks. You worry that you can’t handle the project, you have negative self-talk going on in your head. You focus only on the bad outcomes, emphasize your own lack of abilities, avoid risks, question your ability to succeed, set low personal goals, and have a dismal performance under pressure.
A leader with a low self-efficacy is a disaster for a team. Such leaders hold their teams back. Not only they are not able to inspire, but their low resistance to anything unknown and risky stifles innovation, prohibits initiative, and frowns on open discussion.
They can’t handle pressure and get under stress easily. A leader who can’t manage the stress of the job is difficult to work for. If you come to the office in a bad mood, or under a lot of stress, it immediately spreads around like a contagion. Everyone is impacted. It has a dramatic effect on the team’s ability to execute.
The contagious nature of our moods starts already in infancy when we mimic the behavior of those around us. If a small child sees their mother to smile, they will smile too. More importantly, they will feel happy. If they see their mom to cry or yell at someone, they feel the distress and start crying. And we bring these automatic responses to adulthood.
In fact, the mood can be transferred to some extent even through written communication. You may think that simple courtesy in email or instant messages is the thing of the past, but it is not. Saying things like, “hello,” “please,” “thank you,” including an emoticon every now and then, wishing people to “have a great weekend,” and similar small touches enhance your written communication and will make the reader feel a bit better about life.
Some time ago I started to use “Life is great” words as part of my signature in emails. It acted as a reminder to me every single time I wrote an email, which is way too many times a day if you ask me. It also had an interesting impact on many people who received those emails. Often it invoked a small smile or even a bit of curiosity. People would often respond in a similar manner.
Would one email have a profound effect on how someone feels about their life? Of course not. But if you put together enough of these small enhancements, you can truly change how people feel.
What can you do to build up your self-efficacy and ultimately be more resilient? Resilient people share a couple of basic characteristics:
They own the world around them – they don’t feel like victims of external circumstances, but rather believe that they can influence life events by their own actions. They are in control.
They try new things – the more varied experiences you have, the more likely you don’t get surprised when the life throws you a curveball.
They have an ability to adapt – they are fine with change and are able to adapt to whatever environment or life situations quickly.
They learn and ponder – they accumulate life wisdom. They are able to learn from positive and negative experiences. They collect the lessons learned and doing so realize that they can cope with lots of stuff.
They are optimistic – the words every cloud has a silver lining ring true to them. They will find some takeaway from any situation and always look at the bright side of life.
They understand that stress is part of life – they are not bothered by external pressure. They know that external pressure is always there and it is only our decision how we want to react to it. They know they can’t control the pressure but can control their reactions to it.
For you to become one of the confident leaders, who are resilient and have a high self-efficacy you need to start with a couple of simple but not so easy steps:
Create self-awareness and admit that you have a problem – it always starts with an understanding of who you are today. Getting feedback from other people surrounding you about how they see you is a good step to make sure you get the full picture.
Discover how your thoughts, self-talk, and your actions contribute to the problem – it may be worth getting a coach and dive deep into some of your beliefs that hold you back. They way how you see the world and the way you talk to yourself, drives your actions. Understanding the root cause of your problem will help you focus on fixing the right things.
Adjust your leadership style for that particular situation and/or individual – understand that each situation needs something a bit different. Don’t rely on preconceived notions and biases to guide your actions. Understanding some of the fundamental cognitive biases that you encounter when leading people is another step to self-awareness that will eventually make you more comfortable with your ability to understand the world around you. You will get less surprised, you will be able to explain things to yourself better, and you will get less stressed out.
Accept that we are all only human after all – most important of all. Don’t try to be perfect. Or rather, don’t get put down when you make a mistake and see that you are not perfect. No one is. We are all only human, and we all make mistakes. We all fail sometimes. And that is just fine.
The confident people among us are usually those who are comfortable with who they are. They know their strengths and weaknesses. They know their limitations. They know what makes them happy and what pushes their buttons. They are also comfortable with showing vulnerability every now and then. In fact, they do it strategically.
You don’t want to be seen as a weak and wimpy leader in front of your team all the time, but you may want to show a bit of weakness occasionally to build a stronger emotional bond. If you can do this and feel great about it, you know you have the right level of confidence.
What are your thoughts on confidence? How do you think it impacts your ability to lead others? What are the key characteristics that a confident leader needs to have?
Photo: Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay.com
I’m gathering material for a book about introversion, leadership and successful careers, and I would love to hear from you! If you are an introvert, who has a successful career and/or who moved to a leadership role, I would like to ask you to share your experience with me. I prepared a couple of short survey’s that will make it easy for you: Strengths of successful introverts (What strengths introverts have that can help them be successful?); Blueprint of a successful career (What is required for a successful career?); Strategies for introverted leaders (As an introverted leader what strategies do you use to lead and manage others effectively?)