Commentary: Nadine Thomsen, Psy.D.

Taken from: Improve Your Leadership: 76 Tips for Getting Work Done Through Others

Tip #14:  Build the confidence and self-esteem of others.  People give their best when they know they are appreciated for doing meaningful work.

Healthy self-esteem is the degree to which, consciously or unconsciously, you like and believe in yourself and feel confident to deal with life’s challenges.  Confidence and competence are closely related.  Outstanding leaders know this and will do all they can to boost the self-esteem and confidence of their team members, which ultimately leads to higher workplace morale and better employee retention.

Leaders need to assess the confidence level of each individual employee.   This will require good listening skills.  Understanding that every worker has a different history and therefore has different requirements for building self-esteem is vital for effective leadership.  By initially building on the strengths that they already possess, and providing them with challenging but attainable goals, workers will more likely feel confident to take on new, less familiar tasks. 

 Employees with high self-esteem tend to be more autonomous and creative. Although a leader cannot personally build the self-esteem of a worker, effective managers will look for ways to create conditions that encourage and support the contributions of their direct reports.  Communicating belief in employees’ abilities is strategic to increasing the confidence and self-esteem of workers in any setting.

The manner in which constructive feedback is given is central to confidence-building.  Empty, general compliments are not likely to enhance either confidence or productivity.  Feedback needs to be specific to the task, which tells the employee that you as a leader actually are aware of, and appreciate, his or her personal contributions.   Citing specific examples of good work as well as areas for improvement accomplish this best.  Effort, as well as outcome, should be clearly acknowledged.

When a worker lacks confidence, even minor mistakes confirm his belief in his inadequacy.  In order for employees to feel confident enough to take reasonable risks, the work environment must feel safe.  If a leader has communicated that it is human to make mistakes, and mistakes are, in fact, essential to learning, workers will feel more willing to accept a new challenge when the opportunity arises.  Without the promise of a learning curve employees may opt out of taking on new roles or projects due to fear of failure, thus decreasing their chances for future promotions or increases in salary.  This additionally leads to lost opportunities for increasing self-esteem.  Let your workers know that you respect their opinions.  Encourage them to speak up and share their ideas both with you and in team meetings.  This will only happen in a safe, respectful environment. 

A truly effective leader wants her workers to be as effective as possible, and is not threatened by their success.  In order for that to happen a leader must possess a healthy sense of self.  Leaders with low self-esteem and confidence will most likely tend to micro-manage their direct reports and may even consciously or unconsciously undermine the credit that workers may be due.  Step #1 for supporting the ongoing success of workers therefore, is to make sure that your own confidence is secure. 

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