Turns out, there are benefits that come from being a cocky teenager. Although your parents might have been counting down the days until you flew the nest, that swagger means you’ll likely end up earning a higher salary than those of your more modest friends. According to the Journal of Economic Psychology, their “Self-Esteem and Earnings” study showed that your level of confidence is at least as important as how smart you are when it comes to how much money you end up making. In fact, self-esteem can affect salary as much as cognitive ability.
So, besides providing a silver lining for parents of arrogant adolescents, what does the Journal’s study mean for the workplace?
Confidence increases productivity and causes you to choose more challenging tasks, which make you stand out amongst your peers. You naturally create a more cohesive workplace environment; confident people celebrate the accomplishments of others as opposed to insecure individuals who try to steal the spotlight and criticize others in order to prove their worth. Speaking first and often (a sign of high self-esteem) makes others perceive you as a leader. In fact, over-confident people are more likely to be promoted than those who have actually accomplished more.
“This is the classic definition of self-efficacy, and it may be the most central belief driving individual success. People who believe they can succeed see opportunities, where others see threats. They are not afraid of uncertainty or ambiguity, they embrace it. They take more risks and achieve greater returns. Given the choice, they bet on themselves.”
– Marshall Goldsmith, “The Success Delusion”
The fact that successful people tend to be delusional isn’t as bad as it sounds; our belief in our own eminence is what gives us confidence. Even though we are not as good as we believe we are, this confidence actually helps us become more than we would have otherwise.
Even for the most tenured of individuals, this applies. How do successful people wake up each morning with zest and enthusiasm to tackle another day? It’s not because they are reminding themselves of the mistakes they have made and the failures they have endured. On the contrary, it’s because they edit out those failures and choose to run the highlight reel of their successes. When actions lead to positive results that make us look good, we love to replay it for ourselves – and we should! That optimism is what gives us the ability to stay the course and not buckle when times get tough or challenges arise.
Now, the intent of this article is certainly not to encourage narcissistic self-obsessed behavior impervious to external criticism; rather, to be the best at anything often requires you to be your own harshest critic. But if confidence makes us feel good, gives us grit, and makes for a more productive workplace, what can we do to instill confidence in those we lead? Of course, the phrase “fake it until you make it” offers one approach; forcing a smile can lift one’s mood and striking a powerful pose can make you feel more commanding even when in doubt. As a leader, how can you create a confidence-boosting environment?
First, set reasonable expectations. Set the bar where it really is on an individual basis, as opposed to universal standards that may not be met. In other words, redefine what it means to be competent and highlight the small incremental gains needed to build a bridge from current achievement to future potential. Focus on small wins each day; authentic confidence is a result of success, not a cause.
Second, consider retraining the brain on how to interpret fear of failure. When facing a daunting task that incites insecurity, replace negative thoughts of intimidation with positive ones relating to the opportunity at hand. Ask “I know this is a big project to tackle – what are you most excited about?” or “What are you most interested in learning as a result of taking on this new assignment?” Adrenalin is the same for fear and for excitement; by replacing negative thoughts with positive ones, you let adrenaline work for you instead of against you.
Third, focus on learning from failures. Believing in yourself is good; forgiving yourself is better. Even the most successful, competent people are constantly making mistakes – that’s how we learn.
“The responsibility of a leader is to provide cover from above for their people who are working below. When the people feel that they have the control to do what’s right, even if it sometimes means breaking the rules, then they will more likely do the right thing.
Courage comes from above. Our confidence to do what’s right is determined by how trusted we feel by our leaders.”
– Simon Sinek, “Leaders Eat Last”
To see failure in a positive light, keep a running list of lessons learned along the way. Every time you make a mistake, write down what you learned and how you will avoid replicating the mistake in the future. Although this might seem counter-productive (who wants to see a checklist of what not to do), it will serve as a historical log of how skills have improved and how those lessons helped shape who you are today.
Finally, keep in mind that confidence and competence are closely related. In nature, plants either grow or decompose; they do not stay the same. In an organization, nourishment is supplied by the broad term of training, but a more accurate term is learning. What is being done within your organization to foster learning, growth, and new perspectives each week? To increase the confidence of those in your charge, it is imperative to nurture an ongoing learning environment through access to courses, conferences, or take on a pet project they are passionate about. The aggregation and implementation of these various tips can serve to boost confidence and thus performance of the organization as a whole!