Self-assurance: a catalyst for management development

To build self-assurance, managers need to test their skills and receive feedback. They also benefit from having a trusted mentor they can go to for support.

The three key elements of self-assurance can amount to a big psychological leap at each turn in the leadership pipeline, writes Jennie Walker

In the bestselling book The Leadership Pipeline, the authors discuss transition phases that managers must go through to move successively up through the organisation. These are: individual worker, first-line manager, manager of managers, functional manager, business manager, group manager, and enterprise manager. Each phase requires new skills and values that an individual must acquire to make a “turn” in the leadership pipeline and to be successful at that new level.

HR professionals working in talent management are tasked with providing development opportunities that build these new skills and values to keep their succession plans and placements moving steadily forward. Without this, an organisation and employees themselves may stagnate.

What we’ve found with many managers is that it is not their inability to acquire these new skills and values that hold them back; it is their level of self-assurance. This points to the importance of individual coaching and mentoring in management development processes to tap into and develop this highly personal quality.

The role of self-assurance
According to research at Najafi Global Mindset Institute, self-assurance is a combination of self-confidence, energy level and resilience. Managers must believe that they can successfully take on more complex work. They need the energy to juggle multiple roles, issues and tasks at the same time. They also need a healthy dose of resilience – the ability to bounce back when things don’t go well.

All three of these can amount to a big psychological leap at each turn in the leadership pipeline. That leap may feel too intimidating for a manager to accept. This is where we see talented employees staying in the same position for years, not because they really want to but because it feels safe.

Consider the example of a marketing manager who has been successfully leading 10 individual contributors for the last five years. He is skilled at working with his employees and managing projects. Now he is promoted to marketing director, where he leads four managers who lead distinct marketing functions and have a total of 40 direct reports.

Even though he may have the right skills and abilities to do the job well, the drastically increased scope and responsibilities are intimidating. Until he builds his confidence in the role, his insecurities and concerns may affect every decision he makes through indecisiveness or anxiety.

He may become demotivated by the steady stream of challenges, and may even come to regret accepting the promotion.  Some level of doubt is normal; it is, in fact, healthy to avoid becoming a narcissistic leader. But “planful” development that creates ongoing coaching and mentoring opportunities for this manager can make the transition smoother and less stressful.

How to build self-assurance
To build self-assurance, managers need to test their skills and receive feedback. They also benefit from having a trusted mentor they can go to for support. HR professionals are well positioned to facilitate the development of a supportive network in the organisation.

For organisations that are working to build a stronger bench of diversity in their leadership positions, this is particularly important. Sheryl Sandberg, COO at Facebook, shared in a 2010 TED talk that one of the main reasons that there are fewer women in leadership is because they systematically underestimate their abilities. They benefit from professional development that affirms and builds their self-assurance.

We also see that one of the strengths of the companies who place in the Diversity 50 – the top 50 rated companies for diversity and inclusion – is that they tend to have well-developed affinity groups for underrepresented employees, such as women, LGBT, and specific ethnicities. The intent is to foster networks of supportive peers and mentors that help each individual engage further with the organisation and more successfully navigate their desired career path.

When designing management development processes, it is helpful to be mindful of human resources as just that – resources. Each person has a unique perspective and experience that can be helpful to a colleague. Our organisations are full of coaches and mentors who just need to be identified and invited to serve in this capacity.

Connecting employees in meaningful ways with one another strengthens engagement across the organisation. It also provides them with coaching and mentoring that can help them break through the self-doubts or fears that may be holding them back.

Tips for developing self-assurance

  1. Determine what it is about a situation that makes you uncomfortable, and then identify resources and support to help you prepare yourself specifically in these areas.
  2. Practise being self-confident by rehearsing what you will say or do in the situation you have in mind.
  3. Ask a mentor to observe you in a new or challenging situation and to give you feedback.
  4. Remind yourself of your strengths and successes by listing them or even creating a visual that reminds you of them and boosts your self-assurance.
  5. Practise engaging in situations that are uncomfortable for you to build your success strategies (e.g. start conversations with new people, try new activities and experiences).
  6. Create a vision board (e.g. images that represent future goals and success), and post it in a visible spot so you maintain a high mental energy in achieving them.