I recently contributed to a discussion regarding confidence as a leadership virtue. Specifically, when and how should leaders express confidence to rally the troops in adverse times? When is confidence perceived as over confidence? What should the leader be paying attention to?The first thing to understand is the formula (quick sidebar here...the notion of a formula is for framing purposes only! I tend to think in terms of formulas and algorithms since that appeases my engineering DNA...:) for this has changed dramatically from just 18 months ago given the economic challenges as it has deflated the bubbles of many a leader that became reliant on successes from an overheated economic cycle. That said, the formula is based simply on the three E’s:
I. Experience...is everything right now. Projecting a confident posture when anchored in the experiences of prior challenges and lessons learned will give lend the credibility for employees to believe it. Without experience, confidence is interpreted as bravado which just doesn’t sell these days. Tell the story about the prior challenges and obstacles that were overcome:
- when the team encountered the obstacle
- how they overcame it
- what they learned from it
- how it serves us now in the current situation
The team needs to hear how you/they have been through this before in some way. Ground them in the team's ability to overcome the obstacles.
II. Empathy...is a must. Even for the experienced, battle hardened leader with the scar tissue to show for it, you must be able to connect at the front line level and view the landscape from their eyes. Genuine empathy is not hard to demonstrate yet for many leaders is beyond them because is requires something that many are unwilling to give – time. It is also here where leaders make the fatal mistake of projecting their agenda as opposed to just being present and listening. Most people just want to be listened to, not pumped up. Confidence is too often viewed as a tool, like a hammer looking for a nail. This is when confidence fails.
III. Engagement. The leader must invite the organization into a conversation of what the future can be in spite of the current realities. This is how confidence becomes mutually owned as opposed to solely a position statement or monologue from the leader. Using an appreciative approach for engaging the organization in the conversation of what can be in the face of anxiety and uncertainty in today's business climate has been proven to be very effective. The resources on the internet are numerous around the topic of "appreciative inquiry." Ultimately, the last is the most important E of the three E's, hence your outcome will in direct proportion to the effort you put into designing an effective process with the team. Of course, you are always welcome to contact us should you feel the need for assistance with the design.
In any approach however, the perspective that challenges the notion of confidence as a transaction will ultimately be the most effective. Virtues are not transactional, they are however transformational especially in the context of facing adversity.