On the Velocity Channel I watched a reality show about a classic car restoration shop in Canada. In the episode I saw, the owners of the shop had hired an apprentice mechanic. After a few months on the job they considered him worthy of increased responsibilities, so they gave him a project to manage.
As I watched I found the apprentice’s reaction telling. I am reasonably confident he was more than capable of doing the work because the owners of the business have a reputation for high quality work and they are an old and very profitable company. They did not achieve success by being foolish.
The apprentice accepted the project then began the task of examining the vehicle to be restored so as to determine the scope and sequence of the project. For the next several minutes he called in more seasoned and experienced people around the shop, one by one, to look over the project, asking of them a series of questions. Most of the questions were the same ones he asked of the others.
So what was the problem?
Confidence, or more accurately, a lack of it.
It is entirely to be expected given his inexperience and short time with the company. He seemed to be a conscientious person so I am certain his motivation was to fulfill his responsibilities and complete the project on time and on budget. But it was a big jump in responsibility and he needed assurance and reassurance.
I heard the exchange between him and his boss when the boss gave him the project. The producers might have edited some of the conversation out so I cannot be certain I heard all of it. What I did hear seemed reassuring enough. But obviously he was not completely confident.
But there are three types of confidence that leaders must understand.
The first is Self-confidence – that certainty one has of their own abilities, judgment, authority, and standing within the company or organization. Let’s look briefly at each:
Confidence in one’s own abilities – the knowledge of and acceptance of one’s gifts and talents and the level of refinement of them proven by experience. It also implies an acceptance of one’s limitations. For most people, especially younger workers, there may be a large unknown factor here that contributes to a lack of self-confidence. Conversely, one with an inflated self-opinion may be over-confident because of a lack of confrontation with challenges in life.
Confidence in one’s own judgment – job satisfaction and happiness with life choices play into this. It is impossible to keep personal and professional lives entirely separate. We are what we are and what happens outside of work affects how we feel which affects how we perform on the job. If people have made good decisions they are confident of making more. If not, well then, their abilities to pull the trigger on hard choices will be affected. Whether on the job or off, decisions one has made either build self-confidence or erodes it.
Confidence in one’s own authority – This has to do with how well a person has been backed up by superiors when they’ve had to make decisions. The right to make decisions and pursue actions is critical to developing capable people. People need to know…and be confident or…the power that have to do the job. Keeping folks on a limited power budget (limiting their right to make independent decisions) indicates a lack of confidence (this may be perfectly called for. I am NOT suggesting that you give complete autonomy to anyone unless you have complete and utter confidence in them.) I am suggesting that most employees and associates know there are limits. Not knowing can promote a lack of confidence. The unknown, in any realm, almost always provokes fear and fear promotes caution and slows the pace.
Finally there is confidence in one’s standing within the company and relates to authority. In the case I wrote of in the beginning – the apprentice was assigned a complete project – his challenge was to understand the extent and limits of his authority and what he can and cannot do. And he needs to know what the company will do if something goes wrong and how they will reward him if it goes right. If he suspects he is being set up or manipulated, confidence will drain away quickly.
Self-confidence, in the context of the workplace, directly impacts Task-confidence, that certainty one may feel about their ability to complete the job. I am convinced that most employees and associates really do want to be successful and do a good job. Indeed, a study of Millennials here in the US has shown that job satisfaction, the feeling one gets from doing a good job in a position that matches personal values, is as high on the scale of importance as is monies earned. An otherwise confident and self-assured individual may become quite quivery when they are asked to embark in a new and untried area.
Company-confidence is the certainty one has that the company will not surprise them. No one likes surprises. Leaders don’t like them. Employees and associates don’t like them. It is best to be completely frank in the very beginning about expectations and dangers.
So, what about the apprentice and his many questions? Well, his response is clear evidence of a lack of confidence. Since I was not there when the project was given to him and I will assume that the producers edited everything for time and content, I cannot know for sure what was said. What I heard sounded good enough. The boss sounded like he had confidence in the young man. But there is always a need to consider how we communicate and reinforce confidence in our charges. We must be explicit and say precisely and completely how we feel.
Words mean things. Words are absolutely critical. When you are handing of a responsibility to someone, say exactly what you expect, when you expect it, and what you will do or not do.
But implicit expressions are very important too. How you conduct yourself after the hand off, whether you are meddling, inquiring, or pestering them or whether they feel abandoned, or whether they know you are a resource for them communicates how you really feel.
Developing people is your major job. Measuring the confidence levels of others is an oft-employed skill. How do you do that? I’ll tell you on Monday.