Leaders, See & Communicate Clearly on Confidence

When it comes to confidence, great leaders realize that it is displayed in different ways from diverse people. Diversity requires seeing beyond your own perspective to know the truth about others.

Yet there is one element of confidence that some leaders overlook. When leaders overlook it, they misjudge their employees and label them as lacking confidence.  Do you know what that frequently overlooked element is?

Leaders, See More Deeply to Communicate Clearly on Confidence Image by: mkrigsman

The overlooked element of confidence is performance goal.

When employees have one performance goal and leaders expect another (especially without communicating it), leaders mislabel employees as not confident.

A True Short Story of a Leader’s Blurred Vision

    A student pursuing a masters degree had to take a graduate statistics course as part of the degree at the university. Let’s call this student Pat.

    On the first night of class, the professor (let’s call him Dr. Thick) said, “The adjunct professor for this class backed out and they have just dumped this class on me. I already have a full load. So I’ve decided that each of you (students) will take one chapter, learn it, and teach it to the rest of the class.”

    After the first student presentation, Pat realized that he was not going to learn statistics from the other students at the level he needed in order to do his graduate research thesis the following year. Pat spoke with Dr. Thick privately and highlighted that he would like his high level of knowledge. Dr. Thick’s response was: “Evidently, you lack self-confidence.”

    Seeing Dr. Thick’s narrow-mindedness, Pat dropped the class. He took a different graduate statistics course during the summer (from another professor) so that he would learn at the higher level needed to do his research.

Confidence was not Pat’s issue. The element that Dr. Thick missed was performance goal.

Had Dr. Thick explored more deeply, he would have seen that Pat’s goal went beyond just passing the course. He wanted to learn graduate statistics at a level that would empower him to do a great research thesis the following year. Learning it from other students who didn’t know any more than he did and who were struggling with presentation skills did not meet Pat’s expectations.

Leaders, See & Communicate Clearly on Confidence

Leaders, See Confidence More Clearly Image by:JennuineCaptures

  • What level of performance do employees expect of themselves? The more we get to know employees the more clearly we can see their expectations of themselves. If the level of expectation is very high, we might incorrectly judge a confident person to be weak. Communicate with them to reset expectations and see the truth more clearly.

  • What personality type are they? If an employee is an analytic and thinks through everything before speaking, leaders often mistake this behavior as lack of confidence. It isn’t. It’s personality type.
    Related post by MaryJo Asmus: Don’t Underestimate The Quiet Ones

  • What did their previous boss expect of them? If their previous boss was a perfectionist with ridiculous expectations, it’s possible that the employees’ expectations reset to that unrealistic level. We then see them as non-confident. When we look more deeply, we discover true confidence has simply been masked by previous experience.

  • Do you confuse questions as lack of confidence? Driver type leaders who crave end results have a tendency to mislabel curious or thorough people as weak. Curiosity and/or thoroughness appear as questions. How we as leaders interpret this behavior comes from our own skew. If too many questions are annoying, it’s much better to clearly communicate the behavior we prefer rather than incorrectly branding employees with the label of no confidence.

  • How is fear blurring our vision? The more concerned we are about an outcome, the more likely our fear will blur our vision. The positive side to fear is that we may select a highly experienced employee for a critical project. The negative side is that our fears may lead us to overlook talent that could handle the project. The result is we don’t develop employees’ experience for the future and the organization’s performance suffers in the long run.

We engage employees when we explore, see, and communicate clearly. We demoralize the entire team when we misjudge, label, and brand their efforts through a skewed lens.

What else can skew our vision of confidence and lead the teams astray?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Related Posts:
Leaders, Replace These 5 Behaviors to Attract and Keep Top Talent
Leaders, For Employee Engagement Learning is Better Than Proving

©2012 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

5 Responses to “Leaders, See & Communicate Clearly on Confidence”

  1. Hi Kate,

    I once had a young client who was an introvert assume that he couldn’t become a leader in a large organization. Of course he could (and I’m hoping he did)! I’m so glad that leaders are beginning to understand that personalities that don’t fit a stereotype can be very effective leaders; we’re all better for such diversity! Thanks for the mention and link to my article. Have a great week.

  2. Khalid says:

    Hi Kate,

    Nice article.

    I will pick up from Mary’s comment above, I’m an introvert and my boss was worried to make me take his position in future but I proved him wrong when I did!


  3. Hi Kate

    I love this article. Judgments of another person’s confidence level all too easily can represent a form of escape for the judger — a judgment that quickly shuts down the person judged and slams the door on the conversation. Perhaps underneath there is a subtle threat for the judger — one that he/she might find by opening up the conversation. Perhaps, for example, had “Dr. Thick” stayed with the conversation, he would have felt uncomfortable about how he chose to handle the class. Perhaps it would have affected his confidence in his own decision. There’s every possibility the accusation, “you must not be very confident,” is really a projection.

    In other cases, perhaps we’d have to acknowledge the other person’s temperament or style or conditioning for what it is, instead of reducing people to a simplistic conclusion of strong or weak. We’d have to accept complexity, and work with it.

    Your advice, as always, is so appropriate — Go the other way! Open it up! Learn about the other person.

    It’s interesting, isn’t it, that confidence can be such a sensitive topic; how judgments about it can lead to recognition and support or be used as a self-protective weapon. There is a lot of opportunity and tragedy in this. It’s a powerful leverage point. How much better we’d be in our leadership if we’d listen for that inner “performance goal” of the other person and help that individual meet it or revise it realistically. Such a “service” can benefit the parties enormously in trust, mutual problem-solving, and the development of collaborative solutions — instead of trying to escape from them.

  4. Ellen Bremen says:

    Of course, I loved this example with the student and professor. A professor of mine once said that when professors try to put students “on the same level” as professors (and he meant as friends), a professor gains a friend and a student loses a mentor.

    Students (and employees!) need leadership and it actually takes a great deal of strength, courage, and confidence to say, “I want to learn from you. I want to become stronger, more knowledgeable, and more mighty in what I do because of your teachings.”

    Leaders and professors need to recognize the gifts that they have to offer and find the confidence in ourselves to offer it! Ellen Bremen @chattyprof

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Hi Ellen,
      I was hoping you would add your thoughts to this post. Such a singular moment for the student and professor and the professor crushed instead of welcomed!

      Many thanks for your contribution here.
      Warmest regards,

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