Like millions of people, I made the mistake of reading the newspaper this morning. Staring at me from above the fold were titillating headlines grabbing my attention and leading me deeper into depressing stories of leadership failures. Stories of professional athletes exercising bullying tactics to intimidate and toughen up fellow teammates; elected officials openly buying and using illicit drugs; and yes, leaders at the highest levels recanting under pressure, saying that what they said is not really what they meant, even though they’d repeated it again and again. Unfortunately, this crisis of leadership confidence exists in all areas of our lives — so what can we as individual leaders do about it?
Building Confidence One Leader At Time
Some might think today is the worst possible time to be a leader. That all who aspire to lead others are summarily tainted with the same distrust and suspicion like those failed leaders referenced above. To those I would simply say, wait a minute.
From my vantage point, I believe there has never been a better time to be a leader who engenders the confidence of followers. In fact, it may be easier to lead today than it’s ever been. Why? Because if Aristotle was right — if nature abhors a vacuum — then people everywhere are hungry for real leaders — leaders they can trust, leaders they can respect, leaders who have earned their confidence. In other words, in the absence of good, effective leadership, such leadership becomes more precious.
Three Ways You Can Prevent a Crisis of Leadership Confidence
Let’s turn the examination inwardly for a minute. How can you prevent your followers from experiencing a crisis of confidence in your leadership? Here’s how to begin building unshakeable confidence in your leadership.
1. Don’t try to be all things to all people.
Followers desire stability, consistency and genuineness in their leaders. A chameleon may change its colors regularly to survive in a hostile environment. However, leaders who change their colors (their positions, their minds, their support) regularly, create a lack of confidence for those who watch and depend on them for stability.
2. Don’t make promises you can’t (or won’t) keep, no matter how good it sounds at the time.
Promises are a quick, easy way to inspire and move others to action. We all tend to cling to a promise (real or implied) made by our leaders as if it’s a promissory note growing in value until we’re ready to cash in. Imagine how shaken and fragile a follower’s confidence would be when discovering your promises were little more than a vapor that appeared and then dissipated into a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Don’t do anything that would raise the hopes of another beyond the point you are sure you can deliver.
3. Do let others get to know the real you.
This is the very best way to ensure that confidence in your leadership ability grows. Spend time with people you want to positively influence. Let them get to know the real you. Don’t wait until the minute you need them to rally behind your leadership. Start early, like right now. Consciously decide you will allow them to see past the professional veneer we’ve all learned to wear. Listen to them. Recognize and acknowledge their ideas, goals and realities. Work to understand their fears, frustrations and failings. Similarly, you should clearly and honestly tell them what you can do, and what you can’t do. If you find being that honest is something of a struggle, here’s some help for you to learn to be a leader of unquestioned honesty — from my book, Leaders Ought to Know — download a gift copy of chapter 5, “Honesty and Other Truths.”
So how do you see it? What inspires your confidence in a leader? Please share.
Phil Van Hooser
Leadership Training Expert, Keynote Speaker
Author of Leaders Ought to Know: 11 Ground Rules for Common Sense Leadership