People can face a crisis of confidence in the workplace often in spite of their actual ability. Thoughts such as “I’m not good enough to take on these responsibilities” or “I won’t draw attention by celebrating my achievements” or “I don’t deserve this – I’ll be found out soon” can plague people. Those thoughts indicate a lack of self-confidence that can be quite damaging both for careers as well as in the workplace generally. There is a name for it. It is known as imposter syndrome.
A good deal has been written about how leaders can identify these issues as they apply to themselves, but what about recognising those same concerns amongst your team members?
Elements of the imposter syndrome usually manifest as negative thoughts, so because leaders can’t read minds, they need to know how they can detect resulting behaviours in their employees and work to boost their confidence.
Boosting confidence in your employees
As a leader, you have a pretty shrewd idea of the capabilities of your people, where their weaknesses may be and how they could develop and grow in your business. The difficulty, however, lies in getting them to see that for themselves without being as brash as to walk up to them and say “here, read this thing about imposter syndrome”.
Instead, you have to build their confidence in a more implicit and organic way, through showing and coaching rather than telling and bossing. If someone’s first reaction to a new project or updated set of responsibilities is something along the lines of “I don’t think I can do that”, it’s a sign they might be having a crisis of confidence.
Take it as an opportunity to be a coach. That doesn’t mean saying “yes you can”, it means offering practical assistance, starting a process where they are able to grow their confidence and learn for themselves that they are in fact capable of achieving things in the workplace.
I’ve seen this happen first-hand in someone who used to work for me. This person was an office manager, but I could see she had the potential to move forward in the business and really grow, but she wasn’t coming to the same conclusions herself. I increasingly gave her more and more difficult tasks, stretching her capabilities and coaching her along the way. At each stage I spent time patiently explaining what was required. I checked in regularly to make sure she knew I was ready to assist if necessary. And at the conclusion of the task I would ask what she had learned. She was coachable, prepared to learn and her confidence grew. Now she now runs her own business and we remain firm friends. How far would she have got if no one noticed she needed a push in the right direction?
How do you have the conversation?
The conversation needs to take place both before and after someone takes on a new project or role. While you likely have a general knowledge of what your employees are up to, making an effort to have a thorough discussion about new roles can make a massive difference for both them and yourself.
Ask them how they’re feeling and if they seem hesitant ask why. If you can understand where their doubt is coming from, you can start to learn how you fit in as a coach. This is especially important for new staff as well. Fresh starters are always eager to impress, and this is the perfect time to push them and see how far their capabilities can take them.
But the coaching process is an ongoing one. So follow up. Find out what worked, what didn’t. Ensure you’re seeing people develop and grow into new roles and projects. Without those reviews, your people won’t improve as employees and you won’t learn how to be a better coach. Do this well, and your business will grow.
By: TEC Chair, CEO mentor and coach Graham Jenkins