As circumstance would have it, a good deal of my friends/professional connections have made career moves & changes over the last year… including myself. It’s been interesting to see how we all individually have handled what is a largely similar walk from a macro level: while we all had various different circumstances that precipitated the changes we made & different environments we walked into? The “big rocks” are the same:
- changing or unmet needs & new opportunities that were a catalyst for change,
- confidence in our abilities to meet a new company’s needs that resulted in an offer
- our reciprocal belief they could meet ours, resulting in a new employer with a new leadership & teams to integrate into,
- a new culture & new office politics
You know what I found? We all started with a hopeful glow of what we could accomplish in our new opportunities. Some of us still are. Others? Not as much. Time and varied circumstance helped undermine the confidence they had in both the opportunity and often themselves. And a lot of that? Started with leadership as early as the on-boarding phase…
Confidence Is More Than an Inside Job
Recently I posted on my Facebook page that it takes a while to build confidence and that it’s so easy to shatter. One responder stated that you can’t instill confidence in others – it’s something you have to build in yourself. There really is a component of confidence that requires that we all be okay with the process of learning, failing spectacularly, and trying again knowing that we’ll ‘get it’ & can succeed.
Mark Twain said that the keys to success in life were ignorance and confidence – I spent years when I was younger trying to figure that one out. An astute self-awareness of ignorance and confidence does not seem like they’d go together. (1) But I think what he was driving at with ignorance can actually be summed up with looking at children: kids have no boundaries until those in charge (2) set them. And boundaries absolutely can and should be set – both for reasons of safety and societal norms – but how they’re set shapes how children can see themselves & their abilities. That mindset that boundaries are set for us? It never completely goes away & those of us in leadership positions in business need to remain mindful of it.
Once we set boundaries, we have to help build confidence in their ability to succeed within them. Fortunately, the steps to building confidence in those under our leadership don’t really shift much from childhood to adulthood. They are:
1. Experiential Mastery – prior successes are important when it comes to confidence. When you hire an experienced person, their prior experiences serve as their “past successes” allowing them to have confidence that they know what they’re doing. Even still, doesn’t mean they’re going to know how to do it flawlessly within your organization; the environmental factors I wrote about above come into play here. Over the years, I’ve seen leaders often struggle with giving new reports the room to truly gain experiential mastery for a variety of reasons: time, resources, fear of failure… I get the internal struggle, but make no mistake: it is outright WRONG to do to your employees. Yes, they’ll fail their first go-round at times. Yes, it may cost more money or leave a little egg on the face at first – but typically the world won’t cease to end, you build loyalty & trust with your employees, and they gain confidence through both the experience & the confidence you demonstrated that you placed in them.
2. Vicarious Learning – this is simply the process of learning through others & allowing the employee to see that they’re not alone. This is why on-boarding & training works so well when you have a “new class” of employees &/or pair new employees up with a “buddy” in the company that already knows the works (3).
3. Modeling Behavior – As a leader, it’s important we find examples of people who are involved in the same activity but performing at an extremely high level. By observing the behavior of the highly skilled the new employee mentally ‘raises the bar’ for themselves & sees the potential you want for them. This is also another reason why sales people work best when they’re not “lone rangers” – this happens on a continual cycle & can spur a healthy competition within the sales person to keep doing better. By ‘game-filming’ or critiquing our performance on a regular basis in a similar group setting rather than only individually in performance reviews, you further highlight & identify performance behaviors that it benefits employees to mimic. (4)
4. Social Persuasion – Encouragement – regular positive reinforcement. Yes, things like rewards & recognition “carrots,” loyalty programs, and the like fit into this category. But really, the little regular words of affirmation.. from “good job” to “thanks for being part of the team” coming first from you as a leader & then encouraging your team to say these things to each other? Mean far more than any “years of service” gift when it comes to building confidence in your team.
These four steps make the difference between undermining your employees and giving them validation in the hope they had when they took the job. It’s where confidence can either shine or be sabotaged with your employees. At the end of the day? It’s not enough to say we believe in our employees to give them confidence – we have to continually demonstrate it starting from the day we onboard each employee we hire.
Next Up? Undermining Office Politics… Read Part 1 Here
(1) Of course, that was me reading into Twain’s words – he didn’t say we needed to be aware that we had both; merely that we needed both.
(2) Parents, Teachers, Adults
(3) but that they don’t report to – that’s important.
(4) Business doesn’t happen in isolation, neither does one employee’s work – it is at LEAST tangential to someone else’s work within the company if not completely interconnected. So, I submit that if that doesn’t happen in isolation, neither should performance reviews.