Building confidence as a manager to lead effectively

Career trajectories are crazy. One minute you’re treading the path up the corporate ladder and then boom—you have underlings who look up to you and need guidance.

Responsibility is how managers eat, but it’s not always a walk in the park. Prioritizing staff and making project decisions requires strategy and foresight; traits that new managers need time to build. Meanwhile, seasoned managers always seem to see the end from the beginning. They seem to have a more expansive comfort zone than new managers. So what’s the difference?

Confidence. A resolute understanding of the situation and fearless optimism about the potential outcome. It’s the reason managers don’t seem to sweat the small stuff when all hell breaks loose around them. But how do managers build this kind of confidence? The easy answer is time and experience, but that takes… time. Isn’t there some way for new managers to build confidence faster?

In this blog, we’re talking about how to step on the gas as you hit that managerial learning curve.

The philosophy of confident management

It’s easy to write off great management as some innate talent given to the gifted and no one else, but that’s not true. Excellence is a habit.

HR Memos D

The documentary Freakonomics makes this case by examining the link between good parents and people who read parenting books. One might reasonably assume that average parents can become great ones given enough study and hard work, but this is a fallacy. Reading parenting books isn’t what makes good parents; good parents are simply drawn to parenting books.

Confident managers share a similar link: It’s seeking ways to be a more confident manager that instills confidence in managers. In other words, if you’re reading this, you’re on the right track.

“The man who knows his limitations has none,” said David Foster Wallace. Being realistic about your strengths and weaknesses is the best way to train your efforts in the right direction. Confident people catalog where they need to grow and start working there.

The more confident a manager becomes, the easier it is for them to navigate tough decisions and lead teams in the right direction.

Businesses benefit from manager and employee confidence through:

  • Effective decision-making. Confident managers are decisive and make well-informed decisions, building a more agile and responsive workplace.

  • Enhanced leadership presence. Managers who exude self-confidence become role models who inspire trust and respect among team members, creating a positive, cohesive working environment.

  • Improved employee morale. When employees see leaders making confident decisions and navigating challenges with assurance, it positively influences morale and motivation.

  • Better communication. Confidence enables managers to communicate clearly and assertively, which fosters effective communication, reduces misunderstandings, and creates a more open workplace culture.

  • Risk-taking and innovation. Confident managers inspire their teams to explore new ideas and approaches while developing habits of continuous improvement and creativity.

  • Conflict resolution. The self-assured demeanor of confident managers helps them address issues promptly and constructively, avoiding escalation and maintaining harmony in the workplace.

  • More productivity. Confident managers set clear expectations and goals, empowering their teams to work more efficiently.

  • Adaptability and change management. Change and transition become easier to navigate when confident managers are at the helm.

Yes, there are ways to gain confidence faster, but the ugly truth is that time and experience still top the list. Patience is key.

Build a long-term career

No amount of theory can help a guy who’s never swung a bat to hit a baseball. Lessons need to be put into practice before they can be fully learned. Since opportunities to put them in place take time, it’s important to be patient with the process of professional development.

Embracing patience isn’t a passive approach, either. It’s an active acknowledgment that becoming more capable and overcoming a lack of confidence takes time. You won’t have all the answers from the start, and that’s okay. Every experience helps you grow and get better.

Confidence that comes from a meteoric rise up the corporate ladder tends to manifest as cockiness and arrogance, and teams aren’t likely to appreciate that kind of leadership. Patience is a hallmark of a confident manager.

Establish helpful relationships

Managers are part of a community of leaders, each of whom has been entrusted with the responsibility of leading others. This community can support managers who don’t feel confident about their skills.

Sometimes, a confidence boost can come from seeing someone else do something right. The more people you know, the more chances you’ll have to draw from expert influences and try things out on your own.

Normally, “fake it ‘til you make it,” is good advice, but not so much in this context. Other managers can offer best practices and answer specific questions, but they can’t show someone how to develop self-esteem as they find themselves in the work of managing others.

A manager community is good for learning more about:

  • Leadership style and philosophy. How do different leaders lead, and what helped them figure out what worked best for their personality?

  • Team dynamics and collaboration. How do other leaders foster collaboration and effective communication among their team members?

  • Conflict resolution and decision-making. What are effective approaches to solving problems and making tough decisions?

  • Professional development and learning. How do other leaders stay updated on industry trends and best practices?

  • Goal setting and performance management. What is the importance of goals to other leaders, and how do they set and achieve them?

  • Time management and prioritization. What tips or tools do other leaders find helpful for staying organized and focused?

  • Employee engagement and well-being. How do other leaders measure and improve employee engagement within their teams?

A manager community is great for exploring new ideas and skill sets. They represent a different work mentality, and being part of it is great for manager confidence building. However, they don’t have that close, intimate view of another manager’s day-to-day routine.

That’s where seeking team member feedback comes in.

Seek feedback always

Team members are a valuable resource that can offer insights that others simply can’t have. After all, they’re with managers every day. They see how they operate, and they know where their managers struggle.

Learning to ask for and be comfortable with feedback is an incredible skill that many managers never learn. It’s not uncommon for managers to feel threatened or offended when their team members ask the wrong question or express misunderstanding. Why? Because managers who lack confidence worry that failure makes them look weak. The reverse is true.

Managers who gracefully accept negative feedback are the strongest. They are the ones with the self-awareness to think about how to improve since they’re not caught up in the emotional frenzy of feeling slighted.

Seeking feedback and separating it from its interpersonal relationship creates confidence.

Here are some questions managers can ask team members about how to improve:

  • How well do you feel I communicate with the team?

  • What is my leadership style in comparison with other styles, and how does it impact our team?

  • Are there any behaviors of mine that you feel detract from a positive work environment?

  • How can I better support you in your role and your professional development?

  • Do you feel I adequately recognize your contributions and accomplishments?

  • Are there ways I could improve team morale?

  • Does your current workload permit a healthy work-life balance?

  • How can I improve our team’s overall well-being?

Some of these questions may feel difficult to ask. Some answers might not be super helpful, but opening yourself up to feedback and being candid about where to improve can force you to shed illusions about your management abilities.

Ideally, these questions are asked in anonymous forums, rather than in check-ins. People tend to speak openly about team leaders when they don’t feel observed about their responses. However, depending on your relationship with your team, some employees may feel comfortable giving such feedback in a one-on-one conversation.

Again, openness to criticism is a sign of a confident leader.

Don’t avoid challenges

People love to talk about Mt. Everest hikers like they are gods—as if walking up a dangerous mountain while Sherpas carry your gear is the height of human achievement.

Is it difficult? Certainly, but there’s a clear goal with clear steps to get you there. Managing people doesn’t have such obvious answers. We know this because management philosophies change every decade or so, and always reflect the current psychological zeitgeist.

Leading people is tough. Confident leaders may be able to get people to follow them, but what then? Where do they go once they have the loyalty of a team? How does complacency chip away at team effectiveness? What happens when teams doubt leaders? Where does charisma end and emotional intelligence begin?

There’s no limit to the possible problems a manager can face, but there is a right way for how to approach them: Go for it. “The only way out is through,” said Robert Frost.

Managers gain confidence by overcoming difficult challenges, and that happens by boldly embarking on them—especially the tough ones.

Celebrate achievements often

Failure happens often, and it sucks every time. Finding comfort in failure seems like a bad idea, but actually it’s another pillar of confident management. People who try often fail often, since success in new ventures rarely happens on the first try.

A great way to build confidence as a manager is to look for wins where they happen. Maybe you didn’t meet a goal one month because one extra difficult project got in the way, but on the bright side, you made it through that extra difficult project.

Wins don’t have to be conventional to be celebrated. The important thing is to avoid negative self-talk and get in the habit of being proud of yourself.

Checklists are one helpful way to take pride in the small stuff. Completing a task is worth celebrating, even if it only means checking a box. Some managers have bells or tiny gongs they hit as they finish projects. Some take a walk or eat a candy bar. However you do it, make sure to look for successes.

Set new Goals

Goal setting can be great for building confidence. It’s a special feeling to see a new challenge at the beginning, plan for how to accomplish it, and then look back on it afterward.

There’s no wrong way to set a goal. Some say your goals should be realistic, others say your goals should scare you. The jury’s out.

Here are some questions to ask when setting goals:

  • What is the specific outcome I want?

  • Why is this goal important to me?

  • What steps do I need to take to reach this goal?

  • What resources or support do I need?

  • Should I establish a timeline for this goal?

  • How can I measure progress?

  • What obstacles might I encounter, and how can I overcome them?

Keep in mind, setting goals is a challenge that takes serious brain power and imagination. Give yourself time to envision long-term objectives so you can break the coming tasks into smaller, more doable pieces.

Achieving goals proves that you can do things you haven’t done before, and that means you can do things you’ve never even thought about. All of this is good for manager confidence.

Keep learning

Confident managers understand that they’re never done learning. There’s always another new skill out there to discover, with instruction on how to get better at it (especially in the age of YouTube and ChatGPT).

Just ask!

In fact, there’s so much information out there that just finding a place to start can feel overwhelming. Take some time to write out a list of what you want to learn (consider using the team member feedback from earlier), and look for courses online. Just starting down the path is usually enough to spark excitement.

Also, consider networking events and symposiums. Learning from peers and experts can both inspire you to try new things and provide knowledge about how to improve what you already do.

There are all kinds of books and podcasts available as well to check out during those quiet morning hours. Learning helps managers build confidence by steeping them in a mindset of improvement.

Going back to the Freakonomics example, putting effort into developing confidence as a manager provides confidence by osmosis.

It’s trying that matters. Keep trying.