Recently, I was chatting with a fellow business owner about training their new leaders. As part of that conversation, we talked about the importance of new leaders finding ways to build their leadership confidence.
There are some very real consequences to both having leaders who are recklessly confident and those who are unjustifiably insecure.
So how do we create conditions that will encourage new leaders to find that middle ground where they are both confident yet still able to lead with humility?
Ideally, it starts before you promote them. If you have a tendency of promoting internally, then you've probably already identified individuals that you feel would make great formal leaders.
And before you just assume that they want that responsibility, check with them because they may not be interested. Not everyone wants to lead a team. It doesn't make them bad people or bad employees! It's just a choice.
Some people love what they do right now and they want to do it for the rest of their careers or at least for the foreseeable future. Why move them out of something that they're really good at, that they love to do, just to put them in a position where they have no real interest in being. So make sure that it's something that they actually want to do.
Assuming that they are interested in a more formal type of leadership role, start by providing them with opportunities to further exercise that mindset muscle by placing them in leadership-type situations when it makes sense. An example of that could be, for example, if you have a particular problem, a particular challenge that you need a solution to, maybe you put together a working group and you place that person in charge of the working group.
Of course, provide them with some guidelines. You don't want to just toss them in there and say “Good luck!” Tell them what you are looking for. The kind of solutions you are looking for.
Once you've done that, see what they can do and let them lead the group. Again, provide them with some guidelines though. You don't want it to be an entire waste of time, and you do want to set them up for success. That is the point: you want them to build their success portfolio. So give them a little bit of guidance as to, again, exactly what you're looking for, what the problem is, a little bit of strategy maybe, and then let them navigate that situation.
The type of skills that they would exercise in a group like that would be leadership – how do they lead a group? Then, embracing healthy conflict – because I'm sure there are going to be diverse points of views. And if there aren't, if everybody is just agreeing, that's a little suspicious. Make sure that the person is able to dig deeper to ensure that it's not just everyone agreeing because maybe there's a problem with the culture and people are concerned about speaking their minds, so we want to confirm that this is not the case.
Another possibility could be for you to pull them in and include them in solving a challenge that you're facing yourself or that their supervisor is facing. Then, they get to see how you go about making decisions, what you take into account, and then probably the strategy would be also included in that.
This would also help show them how you match up vision, mission, strategy with operational issues and how that all comes together. Depending on the situation, you may even take them through a SWOT exercise – strengths, weaknesses, opportunity, threats – or through a quick risk assessment of some sort. That might be helpful as well.
But what all of this does is exercise that leadership mindset muscle to help build that success library for them to refer to. So when they do fail, and as I’ve mentioned before, I absolutely believe that failure is inevitable. Failure will happen. And it's all about what you do when it happens. How are you going to react? As I addressed in another article, it's how are you going to teach your team to fail? And this is a great way to showcase that and get them ready. The risk there, especially as a new leader, is that their confidence will get shattered if they don't have that success library. The more you advance in career, experience, age, you usually have this much broader frame of reference of successes, and therefore, when that inevitable failure appears, you're much better equipped to deal with it. I'm not saying it's going to be easy. I'm just saying that you are more equipped to deal with it, and it is unlikely that it will shatter you like it would a new leader.
And this is why we're trying to build that up. As part of that effort of trying to build that up, I would suggest even a reflection exercise at the end of the week where they note their successes in a place that they can refer to later. That way, whenever something isn't going the way they planned it, then they can refer to that and be like “Okay, this didn't go as planned. Here's what we're going to do to fix it. But, also, here are things that did go as planned.”
Another thing is to encourage them to push through the fear. Reality is being placed in a position of leadership can be scary if you've never done it or if the last experience was absolutely terrible. There might be that fear that this isn't going to work out or I'm not going to work out or whatever fear there is.
Help them manage that.
One of the ways is to create conditions where it's okay for them to volunteer for certain tasks or projects. When they take these on, be there for them. Help guide their thinking and finding solutions to fix whatever that thing is.
It's, again, part of that whole teaching your team to fail. By doing that, you're also teaching them to manage that fear by changing the narrative in their minds.
I want to be really careful here.
It's not about pretending that there is no risk. It's not about saying, “I am not afraid. I can do this.” Yes, you can. And it's okay to feel the fear. It's just taking it, acknowledging that there is a risk, and taking that feeling and then putting it in a place where you can move it from an emotional place to a more intellectual place.
It's all about creating a plan to mitigate the risks so that this mindset shift happens. It's framing it differently to become more curious and consider what if things do work out? Think about the positive impact of leading with integrity.
That's one example of how you can help them push through the fear and move it from that emotional place to a more intellectual place by planning, strategizing, scenario creating, etc.
After doing this a few times, they should start getting the hang of it, and it's going to, hopefully, boost their confidence in such a manner that they will know how to handle whatever comes their way.
Confidence really does grow by pushing through fear and discovering what we're capable of accomplishing. And we'll realize that we really can do so much more than we think we can. It's just a question of pushing through.
Another important aspect is to not let them go at it alone. If you're promoting a few new leaders, try to create some form of cohort where they can encourage each other. And if you're concerned about having leaders in different departments, I would say, that may be potentially even better, because then they can provide each other with different perspectives from the organization itself such as different operational perspectives.
Therefore, they may be able to provide each other with different ideas. So if you have more than one person, try to get them together. It might also provide them with a safe space where they can vent. Reality is sometimes things are frustrating and there's nothing we can do. And sometimes, we just need to talk about it. We want to be careful though. We certainly don't want it to become toxic.
There is that risk. So perhaps that would require a little bit of training on how to navigate emotion in a healthy way so that it doesn't just become a vent-fest and then nothing productive comes out of it.
But for now, being able to just let it out is not a bad thing. As long as we keep it from turning into resentment that spreads.
If there is no cohort or there's only one person, maybe you can pair them with a seasoned leader, whenever possible, to potentially give them perspective and lead them in finding appropriate solutions and provide them with some form of proper guidance.
There are many organizations who send their new leaders on a two-day course, or whatever and figure their members are all set. No, they're not set.
Just saying, “Okay, you're a new leader, take this one course, you're good.” That's not enough. You can't just let them be after that “one thing” because it's not integrated yet. It's not a habit yet. And it needs time to become a habit. It needs time to become a mindset. And the risk of doing that is having these potentially exceptional leaders just be swallowed up in operations. So, as much as possible provide them with that consistent support until it becomes a habit, until it becomes a true mindset and integrated mindset for that new leader. And I'm not saying it has to be a huge time commitment. It can be, let’s say an hour every other week if your operations really can't support it. And if you can't do that, well, what about once a month? Maybe you provide them with consistent support once a month. And, at that pacing, maybe you provide it to them for a quarter. And if it's just once a month, maybe you do it for the first six months or best case a year. Try to support them to help really integrate the learnings and navigate through the complexities of being a new leader
Something I really want to address here is, even though it's nice to receive compliments from the team, it's really important for these new supervisors, these new leaders, to understand that yes, compliments from the team are nice. Having a team member say, “Hey, you're doing a good job” is awesome. It feels great.
At the same time, it is not up to the team members to boost their supervisors self-confidence. You absolutely want to guard against new leaders seeking that form of approval from the team.
Once it happens, it's hard to break. And then these new leaders are always just seeking approval and then they can't become effective leaders because effective leaders sometimes have to do things that aren't popular. They may even be in a position, at some point, where they will need to terminate that person or lay them off. So make sure that your new leader understands that. Yes, it's fantastic to hear when a team member thinks that you're doing great… and it's not their responsibility to make that new leader feel good about themselves and boost their self-confidence. Make sure they understand that and make sure that they have other ways of building that self-confidence.
As a leader – new or more experienced – you absolutely want to be authentically supportive and genuinely invested in team member's success, not in seeking approval. That's really the end goal here.
And leaders need to find other ways of building that self-confidence up for themselves. Whether a leader finds that in a group, with seasoned leaders, or other avenues such as through accomplishments, it doesn't matter as long as it keeps building and as long as they're guided through that exercise.
When a leader does not have that base of self-assurance, it will create conditions where that person is unable to provide the team with the support they need to do their best and it creates conditions where feedback is threatening. If that new leader is relying on the team for self-confidence, they will not be able to listen to feedback. If the team is telling them something and they feel otherwise, they are going to perceive it as criticism, as opposed to a team member bringing something up to their attention for them to deal with.
To help new leaders avoid building up “bad leadership habits”, take the time to support them and guide them so that they can become the conscientious, supportive, and yet efficient leaders that you recognized in the first place.