Every. Single. Supervisor. I have ever had has, in one way or another, advised me to “trust yourself more” and/or “be more confident.”
Most recently, one of my bosses (I have two part-time gigs), someone I LOVE personally and professionally, said, “If I had a magic wand to wave and make you more confident, I would do it in a heartbeat.”
Me too, beloved boss/friend, me too.
In case you find yourself supervising someone who is extremely competent yet conversely inherently unconfident, be aware:
- Fixing the problem is never as simple as saying “be more confident.” Doing that is as futile as telling a grouper to buzz over to a flower and collect some pollen. Two entirely different things.
- What got me to this place doesn’t excuse it now that I have been an adult for decades, but I didn’t become this insecure yesterday. It’s a combination of my genetic makeup, the unique combination of functions/dysfunctions I grew up with, and perhaps zigging when I could have or should have zagged as my career (and life) unfolded.
- Although every insecure person is unique, I suspect I am not alone in my issue being one of mastery. I know there is a certain point in every learning process that I “get it,” and after that I am a force to be reckoned with (that doesn’t mean I am arrogant about my skills and closed to the prospect of continuing to learn and accept correction — it means I am not internally paralyzed by the fear of utterly failing to measure up — it means I can help someone else develop, which is the best feeling of all).
- Look at your onboarding process and think about how people learn differently (auditory, visual, etc.) and at different paces. I suspect if my learning curve were compared to others in a similar setting, I *may* be slower than average BUT once I have the learning down, I will be one of the organization’s most reliable assets. My higher frequency of questions is not a sign I’m unconfident; it’s a sign I have a great eye for detail and systems and want to understand how it all fits together. Take the time to teach me or designate someone I can ask.
- Expose me to the big picture. Help me understand how my particular task fits in with overall goals and I will be that much more motivated by a sense of purpose.
- Recognize that my real work is inward. As Shauna Niequist writes, “ What people think of you means nothing In comparison to what you believe about yourself.”
I have to admit, during the most recent supervisory iteration of “if you were only more confident,” I felt a reaction that was somewhat new to me after hearing that: ANGER.
The anger wasn’t exactly directed at her, but at how extremely difficult it is to eke out a drop of self-assurance when your internal monologue is spewing a constant stream of “you must not be good enough,” “how could you have screwed up again?,” “why would someone as flawed as you even try?,” and any other of a number of negative messages.
Having supervised people in the past, I have asked myself many times what I would have said to someone under my direction who was exhibiting self-confidence issues. Would I have done the same thing? Told them to “trust themselves”?
I can honestly say I have never said that to someone who reported to me. I like to think I would have recognized the signs of insecurity BEFORE a formal review process or crisis ….. that I would have found a way to elicit that drop of self-assurance if I thought they were inwardly drowning under a flood of self doubt.
All I know is instilling confidence in an insecure employee is less a matter of plugging something in but more a matter of figuring out how the wiring got misconfigured in the first place.