Over the years in my role as an executive coach I’ve noticed a disquieting pattern in the leaders I work with. They’re hungry for encouragement and a vote of confidence for a job well done. Some will admit openly to a lack of self-confidence and others will beat around the bush by avoiding difficult situations they should be dealing with. When I ask why they sidestep them I might hear “I’m not ready yet” or a concern that they don’t know how to deal with it. These responses may be an indication of a lack of confidence in their ability.
I rarely see “increase self-confidence in the way I lead others” as a personal goal on a development plan. It’s embarrassing for someone to openly admit to lacking confidence yet it’s one of the most common confessions I hear behind the wall of confidentiality created in a coaching relationship.
These leaders I work with aren’t slouches. My clients are primarily designated as high potential in their organizations to move into positions of greater influence. They are smart and they get results. But their high potential status may make them fearful of doing unfamiliar or difficult things.
Over time, if confidence doesn’t build in these leaders, their relationships, impact, and results suffer. So, as an executive coach to leaders, I sometimes become the chief confidence-booster. It’s sad that it takes an outsider to do this when insiders – like you – can probably do it so much better.
Watch for signs of waning self confidence in the people who report to you. Boost it by:
Noticing the fear and giving support: It would be unusual for someone to actually admit to you that they lack confidence so watch for it in not-so-direct ways. Evasiveness about why things aren’t getting done, a negative mood, and resistance to your suggestions are all ways that fear may be expressed. Instead of being accusatory, try a little empathy. Ask how you might be able to help or support them.
Noticing things that others do well: It’s too easy to go to a place of judgment and criticism of others. Why not challenge yourself to look for what they’re doing well, and letting them know what you noticed? Even better, a brief handwritten note or other tangible reminder from you can be keepsakes for them to remind themselves what they’re doing well.
Cultivating a more positive environment: Become more vigilant about what is working and going well. I’m not suggesting fake positivity, but I am suggesting a more balanced approach. Like many of us you may spend too much time discussing, diagnosing and fixing what went wrong and less time and effort in conversation about what is going right or what is possible. Conversations about a positive future for individuals and your organization are also particularly uplifting – have them often!
I would be happy to come in and help your leaders work on their self-esteem, but why don’t you start the process and see where it leads? You just might find a boost in self-confidence that leads to great results.