How Leaders Can Foster Confidence in the Face of Challenges

There are a dozen little problems that crop up over the course of the workday. However, every once in a while, a crisis balloons and the entire office needs to turn their attention to solving the problem.

This is a time for leaders to shine. Unfortunately, many of them don’t.

Your staff expects you to guide them through problems. Your team members can be your greatest asset when you face a challenge, you just have to lead them. Here is how effective leaders work with their staff to overcome problems.

Trust in Your Ability to Lead

Before you can rally the troops, you need to believe in yourself. Self-esteem plays a big role in leadership, especially when times get tough. Building a strong foundation of good self-esteem can prepare you to face almost any workplace challenge or conflict.

“The more you like yourself, the more confidence you have,” consultant and speaker Brian Tracy writes. “The more you like yourself, and believe in yourself, the more efficient and effective you are in each area of your life.”

That said, there is a significant difference between self-esteem and self-confidence. Self-esteem refers to your internal traits and successes; self-confidence refers to how you feel about your abilities. For example, you may have a high level of self-confidence presenting an idea to a client or drafting a quarterly report. Meanwhile, self-esteem channels how you feel about yourself and your self-worth. When you see other people valuing themselves, you tend to take a similar positive outlook.

Belinda Ellsworth at Step Into Success says we tend to lean on self-confidence instead of building our self-esteem. We focus on our achievements instead of admitting our imperfections. This leaves us vulnerable when we fail, because we based our worth on external success.

Additionally, there is also a difference between a big ego and high self-esteem. Ammar Mango, organizational consultant, defines ego as “an inflated fake self image.” Someone with an over-inflated ego likes to think that they are always right, often because they can’t handle the idea that they could be wrong. People with high self-esteem admit when they are wrong and feel confident asking for help or for more information.

Even from these few examples, you can see how a manager with high self-esteem is someone you want when times get tough, as opposed to someone with high self-confidence or a big ego.


Approach the Problem With a Growth Mindset

If you are going to set aside your ego and rely on your team to help you through a crisis, then you need to build your culture around having a growth mindset.

Carol S. Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, introduced the idea of fixed and growth mindsets in her 2006 book “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” Someone who has a fixed mindset needs to be flawless and achieve success right away. People with fixed mindsets believe “if you have it you have it, and if you don’t you don’t.”

Conversely, those with growth mindsets admit that they don’t know everything and look for alternative ways of thinking. They view challenges as opportunities to learn, not accomplishments where you either succeed or fail.  

“The fixed mindset arises from the belief that the qualities that you have...are an innate part of you, rather than something that has been learned and cultivated over time,” mindset coach Jane Pike writes. “So instead of reaching, expanding, learning, we spend our time describing, documenting and defending. And what’s more, we most certainly don’t put ourselves in positions where we could potentially be challenged or come unglued.”   

You can see how self-confidence and self-esteem play roles here as well. Leaders with high self-esteem can approach a problem eager to learn and knowing they can be better. Leaders who rely on self-confidence or ego focus on doing everything right and relying on their achievements.

Stephanie Jade Wong at Shine say to embrace a growth mindset, you need to commit to the challenges you face. Instead of treating a challenge like an unwanted obstacle (even if it is), she encourages people to see the problem as part of a journey to learn something — whether that something is a new skill or newfound perseverance.

A growth mindset can limit the level of panic about what is ahead while the task commitment forces you to focus on the success you will feel once the problem is solved and the crisis is behind you.


Focus on Supporting Your Employees

While you might worry that your job or reputation is at risk because of a problem, remember that your employees are likely just as uncertain and nervous about the situation and what is to come.

“A business downturn is one of the most challenging situations to deal with in terms of morale,” writes Mike Raia, director of marketing at workflow automation software provider, Integrify. “When workers feel insecure about their position, it becomes difficult to be productive -- at home or on the job.”

Even in the wake of a crisis, employees will need time to pick up the pieces, accept a new normal, and come to terms with what happened.  

The Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook debacle is an example of how not to lead during a challenge, CPA coach Guy Gage says. When the news broke that millions of customers had their personal information compromised when a third-party partner was allowed access to that information, Zuckerberg was silent. He was out of the public eye for four days — a lifetime in today’s media cycle. He finally came forward with a statement saying he wanted to learn about the situation thoroughly before addressing the public.

Zuckerberg may have thought this was a good strategy, but Gage disagrees.He points to the employees who were deeply hurt by the accusations and spent days waiting for word from their leader — a leader who was missing and uncommunicative.

Supervisor support is important in managing day-to-day tasks, but essential in the face of challenges. The American Psychological Association’s 2017 report on career development found just how valuable your support is:

  • 48 percent of employees say they are motivated to do their best work, compared to 88 percent of employees who have their supervisor’s support and guidance.

  • 39 percent of employees are satisfied with their jobs, compared to 86 percent who have their supervisor’s support.

  • 56 percent say they do not trust their employer.

Employees who feel like their managers and leaders want to see them grow will in turn want to do their best and give back to the organization. They want to stay longer, advance if possible, and face challenges head on. When employees feel lost or left out, they are more likely to disengage and leave the company when problems arise.

Involve Your Employees in the Solution Process

Good managers engage and communicate with employees when there is a crisis, but great leaders involve employees in the development of solutions. Remember, your staff is here to help you.

Glenn Llopis, author of “The Innovation Mentality,” interviewed more than 40 executives at organizations and was shocked to find that leaders want to rely on employees less in times of uncertainty. These executives don’t have confidence in their staff to react to change. Llopis believes that employees are products of the cultures leaders create. If executives box employees in without opportunities to grow or explore new ideas, then those employees will flounder when they are expected to have solutions on command.

Remember the growth mindset: Creativity and innovation are muscles that need to be built; they are not traits people inherently have.

Interestingly, Llopis isn’t alone in this realization. Continuity Central shared insights that found almost one-third of respondents to a Deloitte Advisory poll said that employees are the most overlooked stakeholders during a crisis. “As crises become a more frequent occurrence, companies need to acknowledge that maximizing the potential resources of their employees can have a significant impact on their ability to anticipate, prepare for and respond to an incident,” they report.

Plus, involving employees in smaller problems and challenges can serve as training so your whole staff can react better when there is a bigger issue.


Take Time to Evaluate the Situation (But Not Too Much)

As you rally your team to confront the problems ahead, don’t be afraid to ask for their insights or look for additional information to use to inform your decision-making process. Top leaders admit when they need help and are willing to ask for it.

“Just as the best journalists have the most curiosity, the best leaders are always curious and learning,” Marty Kaiser writes at Poynter. “What am I missing? Who else can I talk with and what else can I read to learn more?”

However, there is a delicate balance between seeking more information and taking action. As mentioned earlier, Mark Zuckerberg was in hot water because he spent too much time gathering information and trying to form a watertight plan before facing his staff and the press.

To balance information gathering with action, follow the 80 percent rule, says Jim Haudan, cofounder of management consulting firm Root and author of “What are Your Blind Spots?”. This rule is based on the idea that “making an imperfect decision is much better than making no decision at all.” You might not have all of the information you want, but you can make a choice based on the information you have and then improve it along the way.

Keep a Clear Head

Regardless of the path you take and solutions you adopt, make sure that you keep a clear head and approach the situation calmly. “A true leader can stand above the chaos, see it as a chance for opportunity, maintain composure, and overcome that adversity,” writes healthcare and technology executive Brian Thomas. “They can see beyond the present, institute change, and see it through to the other side. Instead of panic, there is calm.”

Not only does this set the standard for your employees, it also will help you professionally long after the crisis is over.

“Even if you’re calm 99% of the time, people will always remember your one moment of losing control and it will erase most of your goodwill with them,” journalist Jane Burnett writes. Calmness isn’t a personality trait; it is something you learn and develop. If maintaining a cool head is something you struggle with, the next time you face a challenge make this part of your growth mindset. Focus on keeping your cool, lowering your anxiety levels and approaching problems rationally.

Handling challenges is all about maintaining perspective. This means admitting that a problem is serious, understanding that you may not have all of the solutions, and seeing clearly what resources you have. When you can maintain perspective, you can guide your staff through almost any challenge your company faces.   

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