When I enter an organization as a coach, I often find people (and sometimes whole teams or departments) suffering from low confidence. For individuals, this could stem from being in a new role, a history of not being given a chance to speak what is on their mind, or a mistreatment after they made a mistake. Many people are also struggling with difficult situations outside of work, further eroding their confidence (or keeping them from getting it back). For a team or department, low confidence can emerge after a string of unsuccessful deployments, a lack of clear direction, or finding out the product the team has spent many hours building hasn’t been well-received.
For some, confidence comes easy and is very natural. Nothing seems to rattle them, regardless of the surrounding or circumstances. They can be placed in any environment without missing a beat. If they miss 10 shots in a row they will keep shooting without hesitation.
For others, confidence is a struggle. A couple of unintentional mistakes leads to a poor performance review. Throw in a few negative or hostile comments from a manager or peer and before long self-doubt creeps in. Keep the ball away from me because I’m not shooting anymore.
Now, this post isn’t about generating an environment of misplaced optimism or inflating egos. It’s about creating a culture where people are free to speak up, take risks, try something new, make mistakes and learn from them. When performing within this environment of freedom, fear is diminished and work begins to “flow.” Confidence builds on itself and becomes contagious…and it’s fun to watch.
How can you, regardless of position or title, help create an environment for others to grow and expand in confidence? Here are a few suggestions:
Care for people. Robert Greenleaf in the book Servant Leadership calls this having “unlimited liability” for another person. This means being fully responsible for the well-being of another human – both professionally and personally. When people know they matter to someone else, connection and trust will build. Have you ever felt so good around someone you feel like you can do anything? That is what people should feel like after being around you. People find confidence in an atmosphere of acceptance.
Create entry points. If you know someone might be struggling with their confidence, find the right opportunities to gently pull them into situations for them re-enter the fray. Perhaps start with small manageable risks and build from there.
I remember a mentor of mine pulling (pushing) me to begin speaking publicly even though I wasn’t very confident I could do it. Before long, those small entry points became larger conferences and seminars. People build confidence through small wins.
Paint a picture of the future. If you are a leader, remove ambiguity around the mission. This goes beyond setting the business goals for your organization, department, or team. Decide what values and principles will bind your organization together. What culture are you striving for? Also, provide role clarity if needed. When people know the sandbox they can play in, they know specifically how they can contribute towards the vision. People gain confidence when rallying around a sense of purpose.
Be aware of your responses to failure. Confidence can be a fragile thing. Years of trust, connection, and confidence can be tossed away by one bad reaction. Become aware of those times when you are about to react poorly when a mistake happens. Those reactions cause people to become fearful. Fear causes self-consciousness. Self-consciousness ends the creative process. Learn how to deliver sincere feedback based on your “unlimited liability” for the other person. People keep confidence knowing support and love are always there.
QUESTION: How have you been able to create an atmosphere of confidence with your teams? Share your thoughts below.