How do you get to the place where you feel genuinely confident about what you are doing, the step you are about to take, or the decision you are standing behind? Simply put: implement the right tools, giving them time, and repeating the use of these tools regularly. But the more complex answer requires understanding where your confidence (or lack of) is coming from and realising that you are either building confidence or losing it. It is constantly changing and never stands still.
Confidence doesn’t just happen. It is the result of knowledge, trust, and every experience you’ve ever had.
One of the most common mistakes I see when people ‘work on confidence’, is the isolation aspect of ‘building my confidence’. We work on ourselves, but not the confidence of those around us. This is particularly an issue for anyone who is in a team (which these days is pretty much all of us), and even more true if you have any position of authority. But it actually impacts everyone. And working on the confidence of those around us is generally only discussed as a tactic to getting more out of a team. But here’s the bonus: working on the confidence of your team, helps build your confidence too.
When you understand that your team’s confidence and trust in you, is necessarily dependent on your own confidence, you will start to see genuine change in the quality of work you all deliver, in the commitment you all have, and crucially the follow-through. At the end of the day, a lack of confidence doesn’t just hold you back, it will hold back every single one of your team.
Make decisions and stick to them
One of the biggest mistakes we make for both ourselves and our team is not sticking to our decision-making. That doesn’t mean that you should never change your mind based on new information. Indeed, I wish people would be more comfortable with publicly changing their minds based on new evidence. But it does mean avoiding a knee-jerk reaction to an instinct or indeed new information.
Every time you change your mind about something you reinforce to yourself that you don’t trust your own decision-making abilities. If this decision is not entirely personal, you also risk reinforcing the perception to your team that (1) you don’t make good decisions and/or (2) the team doesn’t make good decisions. This becomes a reinforcing negative process, spiralling down to questioning everything you say and do, whether you are a peer or in a position of authority. The eventual outcome for the team is a lack of trust, a lack of confidence in the team’s work, and a lack of commitment to the execution of the work at hand because everyone expects the situation (and therefore the work) to change. And when you get to that point, you are almost destined to fail, because you and your team aren’t all-in.
When decisions do need to change, carefully evaluate and then over-communicate
There will be situations when decisions do need to be reversed or changed in some way when new information comes in. The key thing is again to pause before immediately changing the decision that you were originally behind, the tactic or strategy that you and/or your team were following. Make sure that changes really do stack up for a better outcome. Consider all the implications of changing course or sticking with the original plan.
If a decision is changed, a strategy updated, or a tactic abandoned or adopted, the evidence and evaluation will then provide a clear justification for why the change was made. If the change only impacts you, then great, you have your evidence. Get comfortable with the change you have made, in the knowledge that you fully evaluated the situation. If there is anyone else the change impacts, from colleagues, bosses, your team, your company or even your family and friends, now is the time to explain why.
Far too many of us, by default, assume too much knowledge is already known, or keep too many cards close to our chests just because. There are many things that it is not prudent to share, but if you are keeping things to yourself for any other reason than ‘it must be kept secret’ then it is the wrong reason. That doesn’t mean you need to put out a tweet explaining your decision, but you do need to communicate to the relevant parties involved. Holding back information because you are concerned about ‘overwhelming’ people, ‘it doesn’t impact them directly’, or ‘I don’t want them side-tracked by this’ are the wrong reasons for not sharing. I’ve seen this backfire far too many times. If people know that there is a change, or are likely to find out but don’t know the reasoning, trust is eroded, they get distracted by the ‘why’, they worry, and eventually lose respect for you. This can end up with a group that doesn’t trust you, their confidence drops in you, and your confidence drops in yourself because you have a dysfunctional team.
Don’t assume that one statement is sufficient. If you are backing a new decision, get behind it 100%. Demonstrate to the team that you are behind it and the why. Repeat it as often as you have to. The same goes for changes that impact your personal life. Inform your friends and family that should know, then tell them again.
Get behind the decision, and at every opportunity reinforce the what and the why. Eventually, this decision will become the new norm and the old decision a non-issue. Plus, by reinforcing with everyone, you are consistently re-convincing yourself and silencing your inner-critic.
Tell your team your believe in them
Do you believe in your team’s ability to do it’s work, deliver on time and the required standard (note I didn’t say excellent standard because sometimes excellence isn’t what you need!)? If you don’t, we need to talk! But I’m assuming you do otherwise you wouldn’t be working with them.
You need to start telling your team your belief in them. And not just once but regularly. Start reinforcing your trust in multiple ways, that are subtle but build their faith in themselves and in the team:
- When your team is all-in and they are nervous, tell them they are doing great and that everything will be fine or excellent. This may seem obvious, but so many of us forget to do this. Even if you aren’t the boss, the gentle reassurance of a colleague is sometimes all it takes to push people from an anxiety that can be damaging to just enough adrenaline to push into the zone of achieving great things. If your team is working on a big event, and the day is finally here, it is too late to change anything. So just ensure everyone knows that it will come together because the hard work is already done. If someone has submitted a big proposal, is about to close a big deal, or is rolling out a new product, reinforce that it will all be fine.
- Stop critiquing your team’s work except when absolutely necessary. The swiftest way to knock someone’s confidence is to pull apart their work. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t step in when something is fundamentally wrong. But far too many of us critique for the sake of doing so, to make us feel useful, important and that we are contributing. Most of the time these contributions really aren’t helpful. Before you next jump in ask yourself if there genuinely is a problem, or if they just aren’t doing it the way you would do the same task. They aren’t a clone of you and that is a good thing, so get comfortable with different ways of doing things. If you still need to critique, do you need to actually change the item this time, or can you turn it into a learning and nurturing experience for next time? If you genuinely need to provide feedback that is about changing the current work, make sure you explain the reasoning for the change, the positive impact it will have and help them do it without your feedback next time. Your goal with feedback and critiquing should be to never give the same feedback twice.
- Trust your team to deliver. If you are in a management position you are probably a bottleneck. The buck stops with you. Decisions come to you. Sign-offs are your responsibility. At the end of the day, you have accountability for your team’s work. So the natural instinct is to make it so everything goes through you. This doesn’t scale. The majority of teams and business’ that fail, don’t fail because they didn’t ‘adapt’, or they didn’t ‘scale’ or weren’t ‘competitive’ – those are the symptoms that should have been noticed before the collapse. The problem is more often than not a team that isn’t functioning, and often because the team-lead is a bottleneck. Your team are there to allow you to do the work that none of them can do. So allow them to do their work so you are free to do your work. Sure, some stuff you absolutely must sign-off on. But put in place processes for checks and balances that other’s can do so you are minimising the number of things that have to come to you. Trust your team to make this happen. Manage at the right level. If you are in the C-suite you should never be checking all outgoing communications. If you are a team lead, you should never be checking every line of code (unless this is explicitly still your job as head developer). Make someone in the team responsible for checking in with others and bringing exceptions to you. Trust someone in your team to perform reviews of work. Trust your team to deliver what you asked them to deliver. And in return, they won’t just deliver, but they will excel. When done right, they will also bring those early warnings to you, that you were too busy to notice or listen to when you were a bottleneck. Trust yourself enough to trust your team. If you don’t trust your team, figure out why, and build a team that you do trust.
- Smile more. This is very cliché, and many people would disagree with me on this, but this one simple act, can build trust. If you always look concerned, your team will pick up on this. If you are known for spontaneously combusting when receiving bad news, no one will dare approach you with bad news, until it is so bad that you have to know. If you struggle to get through a day smiling, maybe it is time to look at your working environment! Some of us are natural hermits – that’s OK. Work from home more! But when you are around your team, smiling will boost everyone’s engagement and competence, not just their morale.
- Say thank you. This one is so obvious that most of us think we do it all the time. But the simple act of thanking people for their contributions, their time, or their analyses of a situation is incredibly powerful. This is particularly true when you are going to override someone, disregard advice or reverse a decision. Acknowledge that someone’s contribution of time, effort and voicing concerns is valid before you appear to ignore it. Learn to say thank you at the end of meetings. And always say thank you whenever someone goes above and beyond.
There is a lot more to building confidence in yourself, and in the next post I’ll discuss handling your inner critic, but start with building confidence in those around you, and you might be surprised of the impact on your own confidence.