Self-Confident Leaders Transcend the Daily Ordeals
I think I am smart, and I am determined to look it!
Visualize a workplace much like yours, with a manager named Terry, an “everyday leader,” as I would say. Terry would categorize herself as a competent leader, although she has never had much in the way of official leadership training. This leads her to occasionally wonder how far off the mark she is to his full potential. And if she is a woman in leadership, the whole issue is more complicated for creating a powerful image.
What fabulous techniques could he be deploying that would crank up the department a little and instill a higher level of productivity in the employees? What would inspire higher morale with the team?
Terry is typical. She is in a position of authority, wavering slightly when a tough decision emerges. Could be a big one, could be an everyday one, like those that crop up daily.
Lead an employee through a problem, or let him struggle on his own?
Trust someone, or look over her shoulder?
Err on the side of the customer, or back up your customer service rep?
Take a risk on an investment, or play it safe and lay low?
For those big decisions, the ones that may have bigger reverberations, the tendency is to retreat to one of two extremes. Either buckle under the situation by exposing your nervousness, or master the situation by exuding confidence, whether you have it or not.
In the movie U-571, a young Naval officer, Lt. Andrew Tyler finds himself in a dilemma while on a secret mission to take over a German U-boat. Faced with a vital decision, Lt. Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) is being stared down by his crew. His distress takes over and he states “I don’t know what to do.” Although he may say it coolly, it unnerves some of the crew, including his CPO (Harvey Keitel) who pulls him aside and dresses him down about leadership:
“You’re the skipper now. And the skipper always knows what to do – whether he does or not.”
Real life reflects the same. The burden of an authoritative position is figuring out the path to productivity without all parties scattering under the pressure. You are the one to keep the pieces in place despite the situation.
Public speaking is a great example, whereby the skill of “fake it to make it” opens a door to managing your fear through pretending it ain’t there!
Key Characteristics Needed
Four key leadership characteristics must be in play to survive these moments of truth.
One: Know Yourself. High self-awareness is an indispensable feature of an effective leader. How do you assess yours? If I were talking about you to others, how would I describe your style, preferences, hot buttons, code of ethics, and strong suits? If you were to do the same about yourself, how wide would that gap be between your perspective and mine? The narrower the gap is, the better. For you grey-hairs, sit back and enjoy the wrinkles. Self-understanding improves with age and experience.
Two: Control Yourself. If you know your tendencies, you can deploy the best ones at the appropriate time. For example, do you tend to speak with safe words? That is a tendency that many of us have. Words like “maybe”, “I think”, “possibly”, or “might” may leave the gate open for possibilities but they all suggest conditional. And conditional implies doubtfulness. There you go – by being too careful in your language you have sent a message of irresoluteness. Use succinct, unswerving language when the case calls for leadership. Hear the difference between
“I think we might want to go ahead with some plan.”
“Let’s go forward with this plan.”
Be cautious about self-deprecating remarks. They may help you appear more human but they run the risk of revealing an insecurity. Controlling your tendencies is an everyday effort. Know and control yours.
Three: Know your assets. Not just those within you, but those within the people with whom you work. The best leaders have the quality of resourcefulness and know how to use the abilities of those surrounding you as a tool for results. Deploy them like a master chef integrating the key ingredients of a complicated recipe.
Four: Control the Situation. You may not be able to control the outcome, but you can control how you are reacting to it as well as who you put into play. Clearly distinguish between what you know and what you do not know about the circumstances. In some cases, it may be useful to initiate a discussion with that as a template.
Admitting the grimness of the situation is not a bad idea. It puts the severity of the issue on the table and calls the parties into the battle against a common cause. But there is a slight difference between looking unsure and cleverly drawing out the unknowns into a plan as a call to arms for your people. As Terry learned, showing confident leadership during the situation cycled back around to build confidence, both internally in herself and within the team. There’s that technique that the Professionals call the “Fake it to Make it” technique, and it works.
When fear or self-doubt enter the picture, the last thing you want to do is reveal it. Even Inspector Clouseau had a penchant for looking confident in his bumbling convictions. You can too, Cato.