Sep 29, 1997

Anyone who studies human behavior in business organizations can tell you that confidence is a critical quality for leaders to have. This certainly applies to A/E/P and environmental consulting firms. When the leader is confident, other people in the organization can more readily accept the leader’s vision for the future. They’ll work harder, they’ll be more willing to make sacrifices, and they’ll put their own needs aside. And when this condition exists inside a company, the firm often makes quantum leaps in terms of development and competitiveness. But the truth is, it’s easy to say why it’s important that the leaders have confidence. It’s much harder to figure out where this confidence comes from and how to develop more of it in people who don’t currently have it. Here are my thoughts: Confidence comes from doing the right thing. You are the owners, the managers, the leaders. That means you have a responsibility for more than just yourself. It’s easy to be confident when you’re making investments in your company’s future. Whether it’s salting some cash away for a rainy day, or spending money on marketing, information technology, and people, it’s all the same. You have to do what’s right for your organization to feel good about yourself. If, on the other hand, you’re taking too much out of the business, stalling on needed investments, short-changing your employees, and running your business as a personal playground, you’ll probably have a confidence crisis at some point. And the truth is, not everyone is doing the right thing. For example, we had an article in a recent issue of The Zweig Letter describing a firm owner who was convicted of stealing money from his employees’ retirement fund so he could buy himself a car! I’m sure this pathetic soul doesn’t have much confidence right now. Confidence comes from working hard over an extended period of time. There’s nothing like hard work to make you feel more confident. Just getting out there and confronting whatever it is that has to be done, not making excuses, and plowing ahead in spite of an uncertain future on a very amorphous project or problem. The A/E/P and environmental consulting business offers plenty of these challenges, that’s for sure! Whenever I talk about this subject, some folks try to link the “hard work credo” to a man’s need for a macho self-image. But it has nothing to do with gender. I’ve witnessed the exact same confidence in women when they have had this experience. Confidence comes from overcoming obstacles and having success. Being successful at what you do always makes one more confident. I find that you tend to be successful when you do the right thing and work hard. Then, good things happen. Do the wrong thing and slack off, and you probably won’t experience success. The problem comes when you do the wrong thing and are successful— I see some of this today. Some people are successful only because the economy is good and there is less supply than there is demand. It will be hard for these firms to face their future confidently when bad things start to happen, which they inevitably will. But the other aspect of the fact that confidence is built on successes is that you, as a manager and leader, should consciously look for opportunities for your employees to be successful. You have to give them assignments they can handle and pump up what they do well. You can’t insulate your employees from the failures that are likely to happen, but you should do anything you can to offset these failures and provide successful experiences. Confidence comes from being proud of yourself and your behavior. Do you always act appropriately around clients? Do you treat your employees with respect? Do you pay your debts, keep your promises, and honor your agreements? Are you the kind of person you would want your children to be? Or are you a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” with one public persona and then a completely different personal life? No one, unless they are sick and self-absorbed (mentally ill), or under the influence of alcohol or drugs, can feel confident if this conflict exists between what they want to be and what they actually are. When you are confident, it’s easy to deflect criticism and fight off negativity. Confidence comes from within. It’s not just painted on. That’s why, when you are truly confident, other people can’t take that away from you. And the fact is, if you are confident, others will resent you. They will be jealous of your clarity, of your convictions, and most likely, jealous of your success. We see this all the time in our client companies. There are fights, arguments, and conflicts among the principals over firm strategy, direction, and priorities. But I can honestly say that the confident person wins just about every time. Others want to follow that person. Others believe in that person. Others will work for that person. And it has nothing to do with title or position— it’s all about confidence. Originally published 9/29/1997

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