Empowering managers to confident and effective leadership

Written by
Changeboard Team

10 Aug 2016

10 Aug 2016 • by Changeboard Team

Empowering managers and building confidence

For many, self-confidence fluctuates depending on the context in which they are operating, the role they are playing and the responsibilities and accountabilities they have. In a culture of blame and a workplace plagued with mistrust and conflict, it's no surprise that this leads to erosion of the self-confidence of managers who previously were highly capable and effective. When the extent of eroded self-confidence is severe, managers and directors can find themselves no longer trusting their judgement and opt instead for inaction or delayed decision-making.

In his book, ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People', Stephen Covey observed:

“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.”

An empowered organisation cannot be a reality, however, unless the people who direct, manage and work in that organisation feel empowered. Managers and directors need to feel confident about their roles, their ability to inspire their teams to even greater achievements and at the same time continue their own journey of personal growth and development.

It would be no surprise to many to learn that in several sectors, managers and directors of organisations - small and large - often lack confidence in their own abilities in the workplace. Indeed, for some managers and directors their confidence is highest away from the workplace - when they are with family and friends.

That’s when their confidence is at maximum, because they are operating in their comfort zone and according to their own terms - sometimes terms that are skilfully negotiated. They exude confidence, feel empowered to make decisions and are prepared to effectively handle any consequences of their decison-making, without fear of losing their role.

What can cause a manager's confidence to be eroded?

In the world of work, managers can exude a different personality, management style and confidence level to colleagues, clients and managers or directors. This stems from feeling demoralised, undervalued from their interaction with their own managers and disrespected and undermined by those they line-manage. This erosion of self-confidence can be dramatic, and colleagues can find that those managers defer even relatively simple decisions on budgetary and human resource issues in the organisation.

Decision making causes some managers to question their own competence and judgment because they feel less confident about taking risks with their organisation’s resource. This is more pronounced when they find themselves operating in an atmosphere of distrust and a culture of blame.

They may feel insecure and threatened by the realisation that others are waiting in the wings for them to make mistakes, to fail at their tasks. This allows detractors to say: “I told you so, they were never quite the best fit for the role”. In such an environment, it's no surprise that the self-confidence of highly capable managers is eroded, so much so that they do not trust their judgement and may opt for the option of inaction.

Why is empowerment essential for leadership?

Empowering people to work in teams and to contribute to organisational success is more about attitude and behaviour towards staff, and not just about processes and tools.

Among the behavious that would foster teamwork and demonstrate confidence and effectiveness are: 

  • the ability to integrate quickly
  • having strong interpersonal and active listening skills
  • taking a solutions focused approach to Challenges and achieving goals, able to give and take on board feedback received
  • being reliable and adaptable.

Managers and directors need to show also that they have a healthy respect for the views of others in their team through encouraging, enthusing and helping staff to balance work and personal life. This can be taken as a strong signal that they feel confident about their own effectiveness and do not need to exploit their positions of authority.

What confident, effective leadership looks like

Confident and effective managers are:

  • able to take broad/overarching/holistic view
  • can deal with the present, even while considering or projecting about the future
  • able to command respect, although not necessarily liked or make popular decisions
  • keen to develop people and is willing to entrust others with responsibility for tasks
  • able to make decisions, not avoid them - recognise, however, how to prioritise.

In essence, they reflect the eight key skills and attitudes that can empower them in their role as a manager or director (see diagram). They have strong and effective communication skills, learn from both successes and failures, are able to prioritise their tasks and manage their own time and that of their teams, value feedback (both giving and receiving) and are capable of making timely and informed decisions.

Why do managers lose confidence in themselves?

In situations where people lack confidence in their own ability, they can demonstrate this by creating much conflict as a distraction from their feelings of inadequacy.

Reasons why managers lose confidence in themselves and their teams:

  • want to be on friendly terms with everyone on their team, so delay/avoid painful decisions
  • place themselves under extreme pressure and are afraid to ask for help
  • reluctant to delegate tasks/projects to other team members, as this can be seen as a sign of weakness or incompetence
  • do not think they have the required knowledge and skills to develop a strong team and to get early buy-in from others in the team (research suggests that this can reflect gender differences when applying for roles, with women being more likely focus on skills they do not have, rather than those they have already. The reverse is true for male managers or directors)
  • consumed with fire-fighting and focused on immediate decision-making, so unable to plan and develop a longer-term vision for the team
  • Feel incapable of motivating staff to achieve higher goals/targets
  • unwilling to deal with challenging behavoiour such as missed deadlines, team conflict.

The role of assertiveness in confidence building

In general, what many managers mean when they talk about being more assertive, they really mean they want to be able to:

  • resist the pressure of excessively dominant members of their team and their own line-manager
  • exert more control in situations that are important to the team and are in the best interests of the organisation

Being well prepared will increase your self-confidence and enable you to be assertive about what's important to you. Feeling confident allows you to show that confidence in a range of interactions with people, without being overbearing. The latter occurs when confidence shifts to arrogance. 

Fear of failure and insecurity in the managerial role can be key factors that erode confidence in managers and directors. Much has been and will continue to be written about fear as a barrier to success and effectiveness.

This can be aptly summarised in the observation by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“Don't waste life in doubts and fears; spend yourself on the work before you, well assured that the right performance of this hour's duties will be the best preparation for the hours and ages that will follow it.”

Am I under-confident?

Assertiveness stemming from self-con?dence re?ects your self-esteem and is essential in enabling you to be successful in a range of situations. More often than not, it's your attitude - level of confidence and passion that determines your altitude in life, rather that your aptitude - level of intellect.

Three key questions to identify when your self-confidence has been eroded:

  1. Do I find myself in a state of being reluctant/uneasy to make timely decisions and prefer instead to delay decision-making?
  2. Do I feel that in the view of my own line-manager, and maybe even some members of my team, I no longer make correct decisions and am inefficient?
  3. Do I find that coming to work is more of a chore rather than an opportunity to use my talent in a meaningful way to make a positive impact for the benefit of my organisation as a whole?

How can I overcome low self-confidence?

Here are five quick actions you can take to overcome low self-confidence:

  1. Learn from setbacks and disappointments make you feel depressed. Identify what you have learnt from each negative situation and ensure you do not repeat the actions that caused them.
  2. Develop strong thinking skills. This will enable you to think quickly when on your feet (or seat). You will able to respond with ease to questions from your team, your own line-manager and clients.
  3. Learn to express your ideas fluently and in a way that holds the attention of those listening. Develop your knowledge and stay current. Keeping informed, strengthening your skills set and being able to link knowledge with planning and action will give you the confidence you need to succeed as a manager.
  4. Acknowledge your own abilities and experience, don't undervalue them. Having this reality check can be a timely boost to your self-esteem and confidence.
  5. Be positive. Focus your thoughts on positive situations and pleasant experiences of life.

Focus on yourself & what you can do

As a manager, you have your own personal goals and agenda you would like to apply when assessing your effectiveness and considering how this would help you along the next stage of your professional journey. Be wary of not attending to your own personal growth, even as you nurture talent in your team. 

Step forward and take action to improve your self-confidence, as it will boost your effectiveness as a manager or director. Focus on what you can do. Indeed, as John Wooden noted: “Do not let what you can't do interfere with what you can do.”

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