Instilling self-confidence

“Giving people self-confidence is the most important thing that I do. Because then they will act.” – Jack Welch, former chairman of GE

As you look at the words above, they can be a bit misleading. Not Jack Welch, not anyone, can give someone else self-confidence. They can coach and point an individual in the right direction, but it is ultimately up to the individual to earn his or her own self-confidence. That is the only way it can happen.

Many, many years ago, I was the real estate representative for a restaurant company. My job was to go out and find new locations for our organization. Once a location was approved internally, the next steps were to go through the due diligence and acquire all the required government approvals. This often required presentations in front of public hearings, city council meetings, and the like. In my early experience in this job, every location that went through this process was welcomed with open arms by the respective government body. We would be bringing new jobs and tax base to the area.

However, as I stood in front of a public hearing in Elk Grove Village in Illinois, I found myself in front of 200 people who did not want our restaurant at the particular location we had targeted. It was my first hostile audience situation. After presenting packets to the commissioners, I then turned to face the audience – the very ugly, “they do not want me here” audience. I stood and my mouth could not work. I was so intimidated that I began to sweat profusely. After the longest minute of my life, my boss, who was there with me, came up and asked, “Terry, are you going to say anything?” I answered in the negative.

He told me to sit down and stumbled through my presentation. It ultimately took three meetings to complete what should have been accomplished at that one. On the way back to Madison after that meeting, this same boss suggested that I take a Dale Carnegie course to address the very obvious confidence issue. Not only did the course work, it ultimately led to a new career.

Here is the point: My boss did not give me self-confidence. He coached me into a process that helped me find confidence. He also coached me one-on-one to be effective in negative, hostile audience scenarios.

In my example, it was a training program that was a critical element. That, combined with some solid coaching from my boss, was the key to success. In other situations, it might be giving a person a project that is out of his or her comfort zone. If you have ever been on the receiving end of one of these growth experiences, it can be a bit daunting out of the gate. At the same time, with the right direction and support from your boss/coach, you go out and get the job done. You are the doer and getting it done adds to your confidence level. Your boss gave you the opportunity and support, not the self-confidence.

Ross Perot once said, “My people at the top are covered with scars. You don’t get to the top by keeping your nose clean.” This is another way of saying that ultimate success in some of these projects might have more than one mistake or bump in the road involved. The intelligent individual learns from the mistake and uses that knowledge the next time around. And hopefully, that same person works in a culture where a mistake does not bring on the wrath of God from above. Every bump in the road is just one more learning experience that adds to that self-confidence level.

In summary, a good leader cannot give self-confidence or self-esteem to anyone. It is something that is earned by each individual. The good leader, however, can give growth opportunities, training opportunities, and stretch projects to his or her people. Once those opportunities are given, the great leader then becomes coach and mentor as the individual works through the process. One definition of leadership is as follows: Leadership is the ability to help people grow and make them successful. And self-confidence is critical part of that growth and success.

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