CONFIDENCE!  A powerful word that can speak to each of us on many levels – individually, collectively in our work teams or family units and even universally across a nation or world.  That feeling of confidence (or lack thereof) can be the result of the context that we operate in such as periods of positive economic stability, good alignment in the purpose and passion for what we do or a landscape of healthy and nourishing personal relationships as a few enabling examples.   

In organizations, whether they are big, small, public or private, the “coefficient of confidence” is directly tied to the people culture, values ethos and operating principles of the leadership system.  This reality has been recognized for decades and the impact on people and outcomes has been validated consistently.  It reminds me of an article for a leadership column I once wrote in BizLife Magazine back in 2007 – at the beginning of another disruptive time in our history.


Close your eyes and think back to a particular moment in your life when you felt your most confident ever.  How did you feel in that moment?  People often describe those special moments with words such as strong, capable, satisfied, committed, energized or motivated – all positive and encouraging words.

When asked what led to that feeling of confidence, people often mention a special person in their life who helped them believe that they were worthy, talented or capable enough to succeed. Sometimes they mention a special schoolteacher, parent, pastor or athletic team coach.  Sometimes they mention a former boss, co-worker or mentor.  I have done this exercise in workshops around the world over the past twenty years and have often added the question …. if we did this exercise in your organization, how many people would mention YOU as that special person?

Back in 2007, my then 16-year-old son, Kevin, (now 29) had just spent two weeks as a small-group enabler with middle-school students at Massanetta Springs Youth Conference in Virginia and returned a noticeably more confident and self-assured young man from the environment of total encouragement, energy, and support that exists there. Now, just imagine the potential level of commitment and productivity that would result IF that kind of environment was duplicated inside your team and every organization.  It would be amazing – wouldn’t it?

Winning Organizations Generate More Confidence

Whether it is a business or sports team (or nation), there is ample evidence to suggest that successful organizations share a stronger sense of confidence in their missions, leadership and team members. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, the amazing Harvard professor and author, describes “confidence” as the cornerstone of success within winning organizations and leaders from all fields in her book aptly entitled, “Confidence.”  Kanter conducted extensive research in major winning sports franchises, like Red Auerbach’s Boston Celtics, as well as numerous well-known sustainable business success franchises to explore and discover what really differentiates true CONFIDENCE winners versus all the rest.

There appears to be at least three key dimensions to this notion of generating confidence that apply to highly confident, successful organizations: Line of Sight, Unconditional Respect and Positive Optimism.

Line of sight is defined as the clear awareness and understanding of team members’ responsibilities and how what they do affects the success equation in their organization. This helps create what we call a sense of connectedness for each person in the organization and is part of the nuclear fuel that drives employee engagement, and consequently customer loyalty and profitability.

Respect has always been a core tenet of employee engagement and generating confidence – unconditional respect takes it to another level. One of the main reason’s workers have voted for union representation over the past decades has been a perceived lack of respect from management. Unconditional respect embodies a deep commitment to a set of core values around unbiased fair treatment of individuals, as well as a shared accountability for the team, wherein leaders must lead by example and make words and actions align with empathy. (2020 has certainly been a firestorm on so many fronts exposing major systemic gaps that must be recognized and remedied to support full organizational health.)

There is also ample research to demonstrate the direct value of positive optimism for improved organizational performance, as well as enhanced personal health and happiness. Positive optimism is a sense of possibility that drives entrepreneurs and others to accomplish great things. Great leaders fuel organizational optimism with continual encouragement and support for climbing to higher levels of achievement.  Toxic and dysfunctional leaders, on the other hand, erode organizational energy and commitment as they replace optimism with cynicism and fear. This formula will not be successful in the 2021 business world or with our political leadership.

Generating confidence represents a responsibility that cannot be delegated, particularly when there is a challenge in the business operating environment – which will be the on-going new and next normal. Helping organizations become more agile and resilient depends on leaders who can continuously stoke the confidence fires within their employees and stakeholder ecosystem. Confidence leads to a winning culture, which leads to a legacy of success, but begins with one person at a time.

As we begin to wrap up a tumultuous, disheartening and often painful 2020, I hope we can all recommit to doing our part in helping generate confidence again in each of our orbits.  In the past weeks, we have seen some glimmers of hopefulness sandwiched with vignettes from a Greek tragedy or dark existential drama.  I choose to be positive, optimistic and work at generating confidence with all those around and with me.  How about you?

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Tom O'Shea, CMC

Volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) - these are the times we live in and exactly why Tom O’Shea is considered a trusted advisor helping leaders, teams and organizations adapt and thrive to navigate VUCA and deliver future success.

Tom brings a unique blend of strategic, operational and organizational expertise that is rare and valuable.  With perceptive insight, proven strategies and impactful coaching skills, he helps clients at the enterprise, team and individual leader levels exceed even their own expectations.

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