4 Actions That Can Make You a Wellspring of Confidence

By: Wendy Axelrod

You will never read a single line from some of today’s best writers. Instead, you will hear them in a TV program or movie.

A line that has resonated with me is from season six of “Mad Men.” When Pete, distraught about his work circumstance, asked for advice, he received this thought-provoking statement: “I realized I had regrets because I didn’t understand the wellspring of my confidence.” Spurred by that counsel, Pete recognized the importance of his ex-wife and family, reunited with them, and was able to take a risk on a huge career move.

That’s fiction, yet in reality, there is tremendous significance to being a wellspring of others’ confidence in order to help them grow. You can shore up your employees’ footing to go face risks and make big leaps in their capabilities.

While not always expecting to receive it, most employees look to their managers to build confidence. Viewing it as a lesser priority in their role, many managers do a poor job with this. Based upon interviews I did with scores of managers who now excel at developing others, there were typical mistakes these managers made while learning to do this well. Today, their advice is to start by looking inward and overcome some natural tendencies such as: micromanaging, risk avoidance, playing favorites, indiscriminate cheerleading, and lack of follow through with their employees.

Next, consider that it is not only the action you take with employees, but also the relationship you build that will have an impact. After all, you are not just affecting their skill, but most especially their will; and, employees use that support to push through internal (e.g., fear of failure) barriers.

Here are four actions toward being a wellspring of confidence for your employees:

1. Focus on each employee individually knowing their skill set, interests, and tolerances. For example, new and seasoned employees have different needs and encounter different challenges (new employees need direction on what skills are needed for progression, while seasoned employees may feel there is less interest in investing in their development). Understanding each person allows you to pinpoint the tailored direction to take, will be noticed by each employee, and more likely results in prompting them to take those next steps of development.

2. Relate feedback in respectful and credible terms. Give them honest feedback in a thoughtful give and take discussion. This involves more preparation then a straight telling of your observation, and requires you to neutralize any emotional reactions to their actions that caused you extra effort. Leave space for their viewpoints, inviting them to share their questions and concerns. Allowing them to have their foibles, and still be OK with them, is crucial. Do this regularly so that it is an expected part of the work week.

3. Get yourself ready to provide challenging assignments, even high-stakes tasks, if possible. Thoughtfully consider and unlock your own inclination to take reasonable risks in giving this assignment. You can quietly plan behind-the-scenes contingencies. Without dispelling or downplaying their qualms, discuss what will be required for success. In fact, help them identify potential vulnerabilities to getting the job done and set the expectation for some missteps. Let them know that you and other resources can provide guidance if and when they get stuck. This provides a relatively safe testing ground. And, when they do make those mistakes, provide guidance and resources without micromanaging.

4. Follow up and acknowledge progress. Spurring them to new, challenging behaviors is not one-and-done. Give them your observations, ask where their new behaviors are working and where they are not, and have them fine tune. Let them know how the impact they are having increases the team’s ability to achieve the objectives. It is amazing how often managers forget to do this, yet the payback from this relatively small action is very high.

Who will be saying you are the wellspring of their confidence? Overcoming some typical manager tendencies and delivering on this not only advances your employees but importantly becomes a hallmark of your own leadership brand.

Wendy Axelrod, PhD, is a recognized expert in manager-driven, work-centered people development. She is co-author of the practical “Make Talent Your Business: How exceptional managers develop people while getting results”. With over 30 years of experience as a corporate executive and external consultant, she has worked directly with thousands of leaders in workshops and as an executive coach. She speaks frequently at conferences and corporate workshops. Learn more about her consulting, speaking and coaching at www.TalentSavvyManager.com.

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