South Africans are fortunate to have been led by the great leader Nelson Mandela. In a deeply divided nation, the former president inspired confidence in people to embark on a new beginning characterised by reconciliation between black and white South Africans. Given the divisive and violent history of the nation, Mandela’s confidence that the nation could triumph over trauma of the past had a motivating and inspiring influence on South Africans. Such is the power of a confident leader.
Dr. Robert Karlsberg and Dr. Jane Adler, experts in leadership development and the psychology of high performance, sum it up adequately when they write:
“Today’s new leaders have a number of tools at their disposal for initiating change and motivating greater productivity. They can change incentives, reorganize units to encourage brainstorming and collaboration, bring in innovative processes, etc. Any one of these may help enhance performance. However, there is something deeper -- a more essential element that must exist before any process change can show significant results. That element is confidence.”
According to Karlsberg and Adler, a feature of our turbulent times is that leaders and managers of today need to meet an increasing demand for measurable results in ever decreasing time frames. In our age of technology, time has become a continuous stream that forces productivity around the clock, literally. Not even twenty years ago the concept of ‘down-time’ still existed, with business, shops and other enterprises ceasing operations typically in the evenings. This no longer holds true today, as technological advances have placed us on the treadmill of productivity all hours of the day. It is ever more important therefore that in this context leaders are able to maximise their potential to meet the demands of running an organisation. Karlsberg and Adler maintain that: “ultimately a leader’s ability to meet expectations depends on the willing performance of the workforce. Leaders who inspire confidence find that employees become partners, and invest time, energy and effort toward the desired end result.”
A current and tragic example of the importance of confidence in a leader is the Marikana Massacre of August 2012. The Marikana Massacre is an illustration of the declines in morale and productivity, damage to the company’s reputation, reduced investor confidence, and tangible costs of a failed negotiation process – which are incomparable to the intangible damage. The underlying issues are many and complex, and find their cause in the historical injustice and inequity with which the workforce has been treated, and which was continued even after the fall of apartheid. Most demonstrable was the attitude of the workforce towards the leadership, both the corporate and the union leadership. The workers made clear that they had lost confidence in the leaders who abandoned them to become managers for the same corporate forces that benefitted from apartheid. That they decided to negotiate their wages for themselves is a demonstration of their lack of faith in the union leadership. The poor responsiveness of both the union and corporate leaders to the workers further demonstrates the poor self-confidence by the leadership, as the negotiation process went from bad to worse before an agreement was eventually reached. The Marikana Massacre may be an extreme case, but it illustrates that the implications of lack of confidence in leadership can have fatal results. Self-confidence is therefore more than just a principle bandied about in management manuals. It can be the difference between lives saved or not.
Karlsberg and Adler believe that organisations need confidence in several areas:
- People need to have confidence in the leader.
- The leader needs to have confidence in the people.
- Everyone needs to have self-confidence and confidence in the team’s ability to win.
Without these as a foundation creating and building confidence will present a challenge. Karlsberg and Adler also list the building blocks of workforce confidence as follows:
1. Trust – Build trust through frequent, candid, and consistent communication.
- In everything you do, you need to communicate honesty, enthusiasm and a confident attitude.
- It is important that you communicate both positive and negative information regularly and rapidly, to avoid surprises.
- Eliminate bureaucratic barriers and meaningless work that causes people to stagnate.
- Improve systems, upgrade technology -- whatever is necessary to support people in their work.
- The best way to determine which small changes will have the biggest impact is to get out and talk to people.
- When you decide on the changes to make, make them quickly and publicly. People need to trust your motivations and feel confident that you’ll keep your word.
- The more exposure they have to you and the more you show interest in their concerns, the more likely you are to build trust.
2. Objective – Get buy-in for one overriding and inspiring business objective.
- Far too many leaders are great at giving specific directions, but neglect to remind everyone on the team of the greater direction and vision of the company.
- People are goal-directed organisms, therefore offer a strategy with meaningful goals so the workers know the greater purpose.
- Identify your prime objective for the first part of your tenure and get buy-in from all stakeholders – the board, executive team, and organization. For any goal to inspire team confidence, it must truly be shared by everyone.
- When people are confident of the clear, overriding purpose for their activities, they can respond flexibly, rapidly and confidently to unanticipated obstacles, changing circumstances and new opportunities.
- As a leader, you need to take responsibility for keeping people connected to the direction and vision of the company on a regular basis.
3. Plan – Create a plan with input from the organization.
- Have a plan – a roadmap for action – that inspires the workforce.
- It’s important to engage people in developing the strategy. Not only will you gain valuable information, but you’ll increase people’s feeling of ownership in the plan. When people participate in creating a plan, they feel more invested in bringing it to a successful outcome.
- The strategy needs to be clear and it needs to include a plan to secure, develop or maintain the resources people need to do their work. It also needs to promote evolution of the culture.
- As you develop your plan to achieve early objectives, you need to make certain that the methods and metrics you use are consistent with the culture you want to create.
- Most importantly, you need to ensure that you formulate every element of your strategy with an eye on the target. Every milestone, program, and initiative needs to move the organization in the direction you want it to go. And everyone in the organization needs to be aware of how his or her role fits into the larger objective.
4. People – Ensure that people are in the right roles.
- By ensuring that the right people are in the right roles, you, as a leader, can feel more confident in them. Putting people in roles that fit their competencies also increases their self-confidence and the confidence of others on the team.
In order to do this, you need to:
- Evaluate: See that the right people are in the right jobs. Support those who are, move those who are not.
- Coach: Guide, critique, and assist people to improve their performance.
- Build: Encourage and recognize people regularly. Specific encouragement and reward gives your people the courage to stretch, take risks and achieve new levels of performance. Don’t wait for scheduled meetings, reviews, or ceremonies to give people feedback and recognition. Every interaction you have with your team is an opportunity to energize people and encourage them to move them in the right direction.
5. Success – Achieve early successes that inspire.
- It’s important that people feel momentum building during the transition period. The best way to accomplish this is to focus people on achieving early wins. It’s important to avoid initial challenges that carry the risk of failure and instead identify goals that can be achieved within a short time frame. Seeing tangible results boosts motivation and encourages further effort.
- Leaders need to identify milestones that lead the organization in the direction of the overriding objective. Achieving these milestones constitutes early wins and gives the organization and leadership team something to celebrate. Achieving these early victories builds the leader’s credibility, the organization’s motivation, and the team’s confidence in its own ability to win.
- Not only do you need to identify milestones and create a path to achieve them, you also need to celebrate victories, even the small ones, from the very beginning. Celebrating not only creates an atmosphere of recognition and positive energy, it bonds your team members together in the spirit of shared accomplishment. This inspires further confidence in their ability to collaborate and to win.