It is so important for leaders to develop deep confidence. This enables them to powerfully lead, no matter their title or which position they hold. When true, this inspires and persuades others, transmits guidance and reassures us that there is light at the end of a dark tunnel. It also confirms that situations will work out and short-term extra efforts or stress will not be in vain.
Deep confidence, however, is much more than what many believe it is. Yes, it is easy to conflate blustering and bravado for confidence. But from distinguishing between those leaders who loudly self-congratulate and those who quietly but consistently get strong results, there are clear demarcations between the “posers” and the “doers.” The former makes big verbal splashes (“A shallow brook babbles the loudest.”), but these too frequently fall short in performance. Like sharing sugar calories, they’re often empty of true sustenance. Isn’t it ironic that arrogance, the show of supreme self-confidence, typically masks imposter syndrome, the internal lack of sureness, strength and self-belief?
In essence, I’ve seen that the highest level of confidence broadcasts that no matter what transpires, leaders will do their best to martial their own resources to be as effective as possible and help others to do the same. A leader’s steadiness in a crisis sends the message “We’ve got this.”
Here’s my list of seven criteria for a Deeply Confident Leader or DCL. Please note my choice of “deeply” rather than “highly” confident. This is because I have consistently found that the strongest (as in most effective) leaders focus on deep change. First inside themselves, then in others. Though their styles may vary, DCL’s all emanate a bedrock core of substance that ripples calmness under pressure.
Focus on their part first. They always aim to change themselves and embrace personal responsibility which is equivalent to personal control and leadership power. DCLs are also deep believers in personal responsibility, knowing that this ultimately starts with them and not with their demanding something of others that they themselves don’t exemplify.
Trust themselves. DCLs assume that everything and everyone is constantly in flux and trust themselves to be able to effectively respond, make the best decisions and take the best actions available when realities change. They see problems as opportunities for surfacing and then mending ongoing underlying problems. They comb for facts, not allowing themselves to ignore facts that might go against what they had hoped for just because changing or newly emerging information conflicts with their previously set narrative or plan.
Above all, they’re not self-sabotaging and don’t shoot themselves in both feet by stubbornly sticking to outdated information or plans that have become irrelevant due to changing situations.
In addition to knowing their abilities and having faith in their ability to respond to future problems, DCLs trust their own senses. Should they have an inclination that there are trust or other problems, they explore rather than ignore this to see if they are somehow picking up micro-cues that are indications of potentially greater future obstacles.
Discipline themselves. DCLs accept but don’t overreact to adverse feedback. Their self-respect is such that they know they’re not always right and are okay with being corrected. That saying “sorry” when appropriate doesn’t at all diminish their self-regard. They know that defensiveness is a definite sign of weakness that really signals “I don’t want to hear anything that’s not totally complimentary.” They are also aware that any defensiveness shuts down the feedback pipeline, which has to remain open and flowing unhindered for the DCL to receive potentially crucial information to consider and incorporate into their response and future planning. They practice being calm with criticism, not making excuses and writing things down to show they take it seriously. Even when they offer back alternative information, they sincerely thank the feedback-giver for coming forward, for their concern and for sharing their information or viewpoint. It is important to get back to them in a timely manner about what the leader has done to address the feedback.
They practice becoming comfortable with the discomfort of conflict, understanding they can become better at this with practice. They also know that positively unleashing pent-up conflicts can help boost energy and creativity and help lance emotional wounds before they fester.
Aggressively and systemically listen. They go beyond just maintaining an “open door policy” that assumes others have to seek them out to share concerns or ideas. Instead, they seek out those they sense are disengaged to find out why.
Because they want to unearth the range of contributors to any situation—level of engagement, obstacles to reporting incidents, trust issues with levels of the company, underlying factors in injuries—DCLs look below the surface for those hidden factors that change or cement safety culture. They go beyond just reflexively rehashing what they've already done because they understand that old mindsets and actions are likely to grow the same results.
Learn from any event, even crises. They have an attitude of “no matter what happens, if we don’t succeed it won’t be due to actively ignoring potentially devastating problems.”
Have a bifold SCMLD mindset (“small changes make large differences”). They know that seemingly minor losses can blossom into significant problems, so they are always looking to proactively head problems off at the pass, rather than waiting for them to blow up.
They also know that seemingly slight deflection points can nudge an organization towards much stronger culture and safety performance down the road. This need not take a lot of time, but like planting vegetable seeds, takes time to nurture and harvest. DCLs have, by necessity, a longer-term view than people being pacified or not complaining “now.”
Understand that it’s not all about them. Productivity is not what they do—it’s what their organization achieves. They know they have to work through others, rather than be seen as a “guru” or “above others.”
They understand that no one, including themselves, is all-knowing or all-powerful. That, as Gichin Funakoshi, father of modern karate, explained, “Any person’s time and power is limited. When a person enters upon an undertaking, he knows that he needs the help of others; success is not to be attained alone.” Therefore, DCL’s ensure others receive the recognition and rewards their contributions merit.
By noting and self-assessing these seven criteria, each of us can truly deepen leadership self-confidence and thereby become more effective in helping people live and work safer, stronger and more in control of their own lives.
Written By: Robert Pater