Thursday, May 22, 2008

12 Steps to Boost Your Leadership Self-Confidence

Marshall Golsdsmith has a post over at “Ask the Coach”, (Harvard Business Review) addressing a question from a reader:

What advice do you have for a leader whose bosses say needs to exhibit more self-confidence while still being collaborative and authentic?

Here’s his response, along with a few ideas of my own:

I rarely encounter this issue in my work with CEOs and potential CEOs because people at the top of huge organizations don’t often have self-confidence problems. But I have had several inquiries lately about helping future leaders who need to demonstrate more self-confidence.

Let me give you a few suggestions that I give leaders who have self-confidence issues (then I’ll ask our readers to pitch in with more suggestions):

1. Decide if you really want to be a leader. Many of the MBAs who report self-confidence issues are brilliant technicians. They often find the uncertainty and ambiguity of leading people very unsettling. They are looking for the “right answers” – similar to the ones in engineering school. In some cases, brilliant technical experts should continue to be brilliant technical experts – and not feel obligated to become managers.

2. Make peace with ambiguity in decision making. There are usually no clear right answers when making complex business decisions. Even CEOs are guessing.

3. Gather a reasonable amount of data, involve people, then follow your gut and do what you think is right.

4. Accept the fact that you are going to fail on occasion. All humans do

5. Have fun! Life is short. Why should you expect your direct reports to demonstrate positive enthusiasm, if they don’t see it in you?

6. Once you make a decision, commit and go for it. Don’t continually second guess yourself. If you have to change course, you have to change course. If you never commit, all you will ever do is change course.

7. Demonstrate courage on the outside, even when you don’t feel it on the inside. We are all afraid on occasion -- that is just part of being human. If you are going to lead people in tough times, you will need to show more courage than fear. When direct reports read worry and concern on the face of a leader, they begin to lose confidence in the leader’s ability to lead.

Readers – Many of you have more experience in dealing with self-confidence issues than I do. Any of your suggestions for answering this question are appreciated.

My adds:

In his first 6 tips, Marshall covers the most important aspect of confidence, that’s being confident. However, sometimes, new leaders in particular, need to learn how to sound confident, even if they may be shaking in their shoes. We often see this when we have new managers present proposals at the end of a leadership program to senior executives. Building on his 7th tip, Here are 5 more tips on how to demonstrate confident behaviors:

1. Take a stand; express your personal conviction and beliefs. Doesn’t just be a reporter.

2. Be passionate, heartfelt, sincere, and authentic. “When the heart speaks the mind of individuals, it’s indecent to object” – Milton Kundera

3. Demonstrate commitment, often by the use of first person. Use “I” when appropriate – not as an ego trip, but as a demonstration of your own conviction.

4. Make a bold declaration, a “BHAD” (big, hairy, audacious goal)

5. Use strong, colorful, unambiguous language

Perhaps it the behaviors can be learned and demonstrated, confidence will follow!


Lance said...

I always told my managers to be less concerned about failing and more concerned about learning. Sounds cliche. But in all of my sessions with managers, I'd start by asking what they learned and we wouldn't even talked about how they failed.

Not to say that acknowledging failure isn't important, just that it is less important than consistently progressing. If progress is occurring, there is probably failure going on as well and that is just fine. Consistently reinforcing this through your actions can help new leaders gain the confidence to grow.

Dan McCarthy said...

Thanks, Lance. Wise advice for your new managers.

Chris Morgan said...

I agree with your point that people really need to decide whether they want to be a leader.

We are currently working on some criteria for a High Potential scheme (part of our wider approach to talent management). One of the criteria is actually whether the individual is really up for it. Do they have the drive and enthusiasm? Do they really want to grow and stretch themselves...?


Dan McCarthy said...

Chris -
There's some good research out there on high potential criteria - see this post for a summary of 3 studies:

Good luck with your project. Maybe we'll see what you come up with on your blog?

Anonymous said...

Dan - Nice additions to Goldsmith's list.

With respect to confidence... how do you see trust fitting into this issue...

Does an individual inherently possess a given level of self confidence or is one's level of confidence determined by those around him or her within an organization.

I'm curious if you think that an organization can create a trusting and nurturing culture that breeds self confident managers and leaders of if it is the most confident and self assured that naturally rise to the top?

Kind of a nature vs. nurture sort of thing.

-Chris Young

Dan McCarthy said...

Chris –

Good question. Probably a little bit of both. However, if we’re all facing the same leadership shortage, how can we afford not to create environments that grow more leaders, vs. letting natural selection take its course and leave a trail of promising leaders?