What Managers Need Now: CONFIDENCE

Via The Wall Street Journal


In a December appearance on “Meet The Press,” Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm identified a critical trait our leaders need now: Confidence. Leaders, she said, “need to be evoking this: ‘We’re going to be all right. In fact, we’re going to be magnificent.'”

She hit the nail on the head. Never is this truer than now, when economic uncertainty has caused a massive loss of confidence among consumers and managers alike. A recent study by Booz & Company revealed that nearly half of senior managers lack confidence in their own CEO to lead their organizations through the current hardship.

Confidence is a vital leadership attribute. Yet so often executives get bogged down in operational issues that they overlook what their people need in terms of uplift. Management focuses on operations; leadership focuses on inspiration. It’s essential to encourage followers. If the leader cannot project a sense of accomplishment, then who wants to fall in behind? No one.

We can look to past crises to find leaders who projected confidence. One who stands out is Franklin Roosevelt. In the wake of the shock of Pearl Harbor, as Doris Kearns Goodwin writes in “No Ordinary Time,” Roosevelt projected the deepest sense of inner calm. Just after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt’s unruffled demeanor reassured those around him and allowed them to focus on doing their jobs.

Can you exert too much confidence? Of course. We call it bravado. Or worse, buffoonery. Former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s determination to fight corruption charges are a prime example.

So what exactly is the right kind of confidence, and how can leaders project it? From what I observe with executives who I coach or speak to in corporate gatherings, I define confidence in terms of three key attributes:

Realism. Confident leaders are those who can look reality square in the face and deal with the consequences it may have on their organizations. A leader needs to assess whether everyone on the team can perform the task at hand. If not, the leader must find ways to develop or train them, or find other positions for them. At the same time, a leader must make tough assessments of his products or services, to make sure they’re really delivering what customers want.

Reassurance. Leaders need to share their sense of confidence with their people. That does not mean telling employees everything is rosy. It means offering them ways they can improve the situation. Managers can reassure staffers at meetings by talking about what the company and its people are doing well. At the same time, managers should talk about things they’d like to improve, and invite suggestions for improvement and other feedback.

Resolve. The strength to persevere is a form of confidence. In tough times, managers may need to resolve simply not to lose ground, such as limiting a slide in sales. Experienced executives realize that pushing people to achieve unrealistic goals will de-motivate good people; leaders should focus on getting their people to persevere towards realistic targets.

Realism, reassurance and resolve all inspire confidence. And that is something leaders should try to project every day, especially when times are so tough.

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