A Key Ingredient for Enabling Others


Over the years I have asked many people in supervisory positions what they believe their primary management responsibility is. Although there are variations, the most frequent answer provided has been “To ensure my people deliver on their results this year,” or something similar. Not too surprising, is it?

As important as the response about results is, for leaders it is clearly not enough. Besides ensuring their people deliver today’s results, leaders realize they need to also ensure their people are capable of delivering great results in the coming years. Those future results will be more challenging and difficult to achieve, which means people have to be equipped in a variety of ways to be successful. We are going to look at one of those ways, which is often not considered to the extent it should be.

Think about this question for a moment. It what ways is your ability to do your best work affected by your level of comfort? This is not intended to be some deep philosophical question, but rather one of personal reflection. Overall would you rather be comfortable most of the time or not?

Most of us like comfort. We are all aware that it is virtually impossible to grow without some level of discomfort, so we cannot go through life comfortable all the time. However, if a question on a preference inventory listed comfort or discomfort, most would likely select comfort.

As a leader do you try to increase the comfort level of your people? Or do you believe that a perpetual state of discomfort is better, especially for future results? Whatever your response is, can you make a solid case to support it?

Now, consider this. If once again you were asked to choose between two options, would you prefer to show up everyday at work where you were comfortable – or confident?

They are different, aren’t they? And yet they are related. If a person is not confident, it would be hard for him or her to remain comfortable very long. No doubt about that. There is a direct relationship between the comfort one feels and the confidence that person has to fulfill today’s expectations and successfully accomplish new things that she or he has never encountered.

So as a leader, what are you doing to enhance your peoples’ confidence levels in themselves and their teams? What are you doing to get them not just to believe , but to know that individually or as a team, they can be successful, no matter what hand they are dealt?

I have come across far too many managers who are quick to hand out very ambitious objectives, but much slower to provide the leadership needed by their people to fully embrace and achieve them. These managers offer justification for these eye-popping goals in the context of the needs of the business, but provide few, if any, responses when people start asking, “How can we possibly do this?” It seems that many times, avoidance and abdication are the only strategies on which these managers rely.

Avoidance is about not taking any responsibility or ownership in the setting of, or belief in the goals. An example might sound something like: “The goals were given to me from above, and I didn’t have any say in them. We all know this is the way goal setting is done around here, so you are just going to have to deal with it.”

Abdication is about not taking responsibility or ownership in the achievement process. In this case, the standard message might be, “Hard or not, it is your job to go figure this out.” Before disappearing, the manager might also feel compelled to add an obligatory comment such as, “You are smart people, that’s why you are working here,” whether it is believed or not. Disingenuous, flippant remarks seldom help build confidence.

Yet, it is rather fascinating how these same managers seem to reappear like swarming vultures when the interim numbers are below target. They don’t let go of their role to nag people about sagging performance. They just back away from offering solid help, genuine assurance, ideas or options. And in some cases, the flippant remarks begin to turn into personal threats as the year-end approaches.

What impact do you think avoidance and abdication have on instilling or building confidence? When the objectives seem unattainable and the manager has become virtually inaccessible for help or advice, it’s much harder for people to develop the confidence to believe, let alone know, they can be successful.

Building confidence in tough situations is not simply some well-timed motivational speeches. It requires frequent hands-on involvement, authentic communications, guidance, encouragement, achievable milestones and a bunch of other things. Great leaders understand the importance of confidence and intentionally work at it. They do not assume that people naturally have an unending supply, or that people will find it when needed.

In closing you might want to give some thought to a couple of final questions. First, to what extent is building the confidence of your people a priority for you? That is, do you consciously think about it and have well-developed strategies for following through, or does this leadership work never seem to be in your mind, let alone on your “To Do” list? Finally, what can you do going forward to ensure that your people are constantly and legitimately feeling more confident about their abilities to do what is asked of them, in spite of how unreasonable it may seem?

Consistent results come from people who are committed and capable. Self confidence contributes to helping people become stronger in both of these. So as you continue to better develop and enable your people to take on the future, don’t lose sight of the importance of strengthening their confidence levels as part of your plan for them. To act with confidence in times of great change and uncertainty is a key factor for future success for all of us.

Copyright 2006 International Leadership Associates, Steve C. Coats