Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Unspoken Role of Confidence in Leadership

Guest post from Karen J. Hewitt:

Leadership is one of the most regularly used words in the world of business, and arguably one of the most important.  But what does it really mean, and is it delivering what it promises in organisations?

Leadership is “the action of leading a group of people or an organisation”, and there are two important things to note:

Firstly, leadership does not necessarily require an official title.
Whilst leading the organisation does often come with a title – like CEO or Managing Director – leading a group of people does not.   The latter, because of its lack of position power, implies the ability to influence without it.  Whilst some people consider both forms to be leadership; others differentiate between the two, saying that a manager has the title, whereas a leader has the people, i.e., the first form is not true leadership, but management.

An even better distinction comes in the differences between transactional and transformational leadership – a term brought to prominence by James McGregor Burns in the political sphere and then adopted in business. 

Transformational leadership is a style that can be used to inspire others to follow, and to create change in organisations, through a strong belief in a cause, inspiring people with a big vision, connecting with them as individuals and challenging their thinking.

Secondly, to lead in the sense described above requires influence, but this requires confidence.   Leaders need confidence in themselves, and to be able to inspire it in others, and the two are intrinsically linked. 

We follow people when we trust – that what the would-be leader says is in line with our own beliefs, and that what they say will be acted on, and become our reality.
If the above is true, why then do we never discuss confidence in business? 

In high performance sport, confidence is a topic on everyone’s agenda, because the sports world knows what business has been slow to pick up on – that confidence is the secret to performance.

You can be the most talented person in the race, but only confidence will get you to the starting line.  Without it, you won’t leave the locker room, and with it you’ll step out of your comfort zone – the only place where potential can be realised.

All of this is relevant to your C-Suite, because these are the people you absolutely need to lead the organisation, and even with their official titles, they still need to be able to inspire a whole organisation. 

Transactional leadership will lead their people to perform to expectations, but only transformational leadership, with that additional ingredient of inspiration, will get performance beyond it.

And in today’s turbulent and tough business environment, do we expect any less than this?

It’s also relevant to all of your employees. 

Whilst having your C-Suite lead is imperative, you also need your employees to lead – to champion your change agenda, and speak out for and uphold your company’s standards. 

To do so requires confidence in all its facets. 

Your employees need a strong sense of self and their place in the world, an ability to project confidence to others – through their body language, voice and words – and to be resilient in the face of unexpected challenges.

In companies, we sometimes offer our people training in presentation skills, which help them to project confidence to others.  What rarely gets attention, however, is our employees’ sense of self and their place in the world. 

We trust they will either figure this out for themselves, or cover up for a lack of it by projecting a veneer of confidence in the workplace.  Indeed, many of us have become adept at this, but without the layers of confidence beneath it, something is missing, and others can see it.

Transformational leadership is the most powerful form of leadership, because as its name suggests, it has the ability to create wholesale transformation in your company. 

To deliver it, we need our leaders to have the natural charisma that comes from internal and deep confidence, when the leader is clear and congruent on who they are and what they believe in.

This type of confidence is long-term and highly effective, especially when combined with the ability to project external confidence to others.  

Investing in it will allow your employees to lead within your company, even when the winds of change are threatening to batter down its doors.

Some say that leadership is only really tested when the going gets tough, and without confidence in all its forms, how do we know our confident leaders will stand strong and tall, and handle whatever turbulent times throw at them?

The people in your organisation may already be of high calibre, but confidence is a part of being human, and peaks and troughs affect all of us, even the high performers.

Confidence is a subject that is more complex than most of us imagine, but with a little more knowledge, we can start understanding the role it plays in leadership.

And with a daily investment in building and maintaining it, we can start reaping the rewards.

Let’s also remember that corporate environments sap confidence from our people on a daily basis – another reason to make it a focus.   And to make sure this newfound confidence is able to take root, we need an equal focus on a culture that enables it to thrive.

With confidence such a critical part of leadership, and leadership key to unlocking the potential of your people and the organisation, isn’t it time to make the unspoken spoken?

Karen J. Hewitt is a multilingual “”Engagement and Culture Change specialist with proven credentials in creating cross-border leadership movements within organisations.  She is the author of “Employee Confidence – the new rules of Engagement”, finalist in the Leadership category of the Business Book Awards 2019.

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