Using Small-Scale Accomplishments to Build Employees’ Confidence

February 28, 2020

Employees’ confidence

In a February 2019 social media poll, the @AskWorkMatters Twitter account asked users, “Who taught you how to succeed at work?” Only 20% said a co-worker or a boss taught them how to succeed. A full 80% of respondents said they were “self-taught.”

Managers can do more to help build team members’ confidence. Lack of confidence is common in the workplace. Reluctant to be open about this issue, employees often attempt to grapple with it on their own, even though they may be uncertain about how to do so.

What’s the cost to the employer? Employees lacking confidence may carry out assignments tentatively, overdepend on co-workers, avoid assignments perceived as carrying a risk of failure, avoid speaking up in meetings, or in other ways hold back their work contributions.

According to College Foundation of North Carolina, “Every study conducted in the past 50 years on self-confidence and success has proven that the two are at least related. That is, self-confident people are more successful in all areas of life. And successful people have a high level of self-confidence.”

Developing authentic confidence in team members

How can we, as mentor-managers, foster the confidence team members need to achieve our mutual workplace goals?

First, recognize that authentic confidence comes from accomplishment. Here, “accomplishment” refers to the simple dictionary definition from Merriam-Webster:

the act or fact of accomplishing something: completion, as in accomplishment of a goal; a feeling of accomplishment”

Accomplishments are not confined to the comparatively exceptional individual or team achievements that earn public accolades and awards. Equally important are less visible achievements that may be essential precursors to the grander ones that may follow.

Second, view every workplace goal as a deliberate opportunity to plan its achievement and, thereby, develop authentic confidence in your team members.

Seek out opportunities to build confidence

Here are three examples where a mentor-manager has a unique opportunity to help build confidence in team members:

A stalled or derailed project. If your mentee is involved in a stalled or derailed project, you have a “first responder’s” opportunity to help him or her think through and develop remedial plans.

Start by focusing your engagement with the team member on the project issues, and encourage him to think in tangible phrases, such as:

  • “I’ve thought through what’s happening in the project…”
  • “Here is the problem…”
  • “In order to solve the problem, we need to…”
  • “If this solution works, we can be back on track by…”

When you guide team members to develop a blueprint for project recovery, you’ll help them fight off the feeling of being overwhelmed, insecure, or “stuck.” Moreover, training your team to identify a project’s potential roadblocks could be an accomplishment in itself since it will prepare them to tackle those challenges.

A critical presentation to management. Say your team member is about to deliver her first project review presentation to a group of colleagues. This group includes members of the management team with oversight responsibility for the program that includes this specific project. It’s no exaggeration to say that this presentation could be “make or break,” not only for the presenter but possibly for you and even the project itself.

Successfully preparing and delivering such project review presentations is a great opportunity to build confidence. As a mentor-manager, you can offer some critical “tactical” mentoring, such as task-specific guidance. Here are just a few of the issues you could help your team member address:

  • What issues are most important to management?
  • How much time do I have for my oral presentation?
  • How should I address remaining project milestones, schedules, and budgets?

The answers are likely obvious to you; but for a team member with less experience, answering the above questions can make a huge difference in the confidence and planning that she brings to the presentation.

A case of “impostor phenomenon.” Much has been written about the impostor phenomenon, also called “impostor syndrome,” in publications such as Psychology Today, Forbes, Harvard Business Review, and Studying these sources leads to a consensus definition of imposter syndrome: a psychological and emotional state in which the person experiences a chronic or recurring lack of confidence despite having numerous personal accomplishments.

As a mentor-manager, you are in a unique position to cure a team member’s impostor syndrome. You can do so by reverse-engineering a few of his accomplishments with him. This process will reveal that luck and being surrounded by the right people only form part of the picture. Once your team member develops an ability to name and own his own contributions, he’ll be prepared to take that confidence and apply it to future projects.

In the workplace, authentic confidence comes from accomplishment—not just major milestones or public recognition, but all the small-scale victories along the way. Effective management and mentoring is a success strategy that leads to accomplishment and the confidence that comes with it.

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About The Author

Mildred Hastbacka, PhD, is the author of the new book Channeling Wisdom: A Practitioner's Guide to Effective Mentoring in the Workplace. As founder and managing member of Prakteka LLC, a business-focused technology consulting company, she has more than 30 years of industrial experience in business management, marketing, commercial development, manufacturing technical support, and product and process research and development at corporate and divisional levels.

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