Team members who lack confidence are less likely to take initiative, generate new ideas, or act decisively when it’s needed. And in today's digital workplace that moves quickly and requires employees to respond in kind, these qualities are of paramount importance. So as a manager, it’s important to build up team members’ confidence. You don’t want to give people false bravado, of course, but you do want to give them confidence in the skills and instincts they have.
Here are four ways to do it.
1. Don’t assume that people know how good you think they are. Managers often assume that their best people know they’re top performers. And certainly some of them do. But a surprising number of people don’t actually realize what high esteem their managers hold them in. (This can be especially common among high-performing junior staff, who may not yet have enough experience in the work world to have a good sense of where their skills rate.) Additionally, people may not know the specifics of what you think they do well. So make a point of talking to people about their strengths, and what they excel at.
2. Show respect for their skills and their judgment. If you want employees to respect their own skills and instincts, you need to show that you respect those things too. That means that even when you think someone is off-base about something, your respect for their skills and their thinking should lead you to take their opinion seriously – and to show that you do, by saying things like, “That’s interesting – tell me more about why you see it that way” or “Here’s what led me to think X instead – what do you think about that?” You can also show respect for their thinking by soliciting their input on your own projects and decisions. Simply saying “I’ve been grappling with Y – what do you think?” can be a powerful confidence booster. (Plus, involving people in higher-level decision-making will help hone their judgment, which over time will lead to better decision-making ability, which will in turn build confidence.)
3. Give them stretch projects. Giving people assignments that stretch their skills can be one of the greatest ways to directly show people what they’re capable of. Make sure you make a point of explaining why you think they’ll be able to handle it, such as explaining that you’ve seen them do an outstanding job in a similar area. And crucially, since the point here is to build confidence, not destroy it, make sure that you’re coaching and supporting people doing stretch work more closely than you would with work they were more familiar with.
4. Approach mistakes the right way. When employees doubt themselves, even small mistakes can reinforce that they’re right not to be confident. Let people know that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as they’re learning from the experience and not making the same mistakes over and over. Model through your own behavior – both in regard to your own mistakes and those of others – that getting it wrong sometimes is a part of taking risks and an opportunity to figure out how to do better next time.