Years ago, I remember walking with a leader to a steering committee meeting for a major technology change. He said, "Tell me what questions I should ask so I look like I know what I am doing." He said it jokingly but he wasn't joking. This was his first big change and he lacked the confidence to lead in his role.
Leaders aren't at their best when they lack confidence. Their fight or flight response overrules their skills and experience, making survival the number one goal. Unproductive behaviours – anger, poor listening, silence, reactive or avoidance of decision-making – emerge, which negatively affect those around them and the progress they are able to make.
Confidence is the most important trait leaders can draw upon when managing new realities. Confident they are positively moving forward by speaking to the right people, making the right decisions, and giving their teams the right support to change how they work.
Here are three ways to build your confidence to help you lead change:
Understand the change (better than most)
Knowledge directly increases your confidence level. If you have done something well in the past, you tend to be confident about doing it again; if it's your first time your confidence tends to be low. As Dan Rockwell says, confident people "know what to do next."
Knowledge builds a framework from which to figure out and manage through a change. Without this foundation, there is little to guide your thinking and actions, and therefore, little validation that the best decisions are being made.
Leaders who have the best knowledge look beyond their industry. They seek out people and resources from other businesses that have managed similar situations. They also are not afraid to apply innovative approaches and lessons learned from diverse sources. To broaden your knowledge and increase your confidence, look beyond your own environment.
Know the questions to ask
Change leaders often don't know the questions to ask to ensure the organization is going in the right direction and has capacity to make significant changes. Knowing the key questions common to big change projects will keep you well informed and aware of emerging risks.
Here are examples of important questions in the Managing Change phase:
The Plan: When is the organization ready to make the change?
Resources: How do I get more resources if I need them?
Communications: How do I know communications are working?
Getting Results: How do I keep momentum given other projects in play?
Don't take it personally
After a tense and explosive meeting, I asked a leader how she was feeling. She said, "Fine, it's not personal." This was a consistent behaviour: she separated content from emotions. By doing so, she didn't respond emotionally to the power-up of other leaders and remained focused on the facts and decisions around them.
Putting yourself in other people's shoes can help objectify a tense moment or perceived affront. What pressures are they under, is this a common behaviour expressed to others, what has neutralized situations with them in the past? Emotions reveal characteristics of those who express them. Remembering this in the heat of the moment is a sign of confidence.
Confident leaders believe that their skills and experience will support them through change. Understanding the change, knowing the questions to ask and not taking things personally will help you build your confidence to be your best as you lead change.