(00:50) Yes, sure. So, my name’s Jo Emerson. I’ve been working as a coach for the last decade and I specialised in confidence, right from the beginning of this career and about three years into working as a coach, I was asked by a business I was working with – I was doing some confidence training with some of their team members – to do some leadership development work and this other arm to my business grew.
And so, for the last seven years, I’ve worked with leaders for them to lead effective, robust, and agile teams. So, it’s a side of my work that I wasn’t expecting but I absolutely love building teams and leaders, because if your leader and your team’s confident, the business is only really going to grow. It’s exciting work.
(01:54) Yes, so this is an incredibly challenging time. Possibly the most challenging time, I think any of us of my generation and younger have experienced. I think the main challenges would be, firstly, double hatting. I think that because there’s had to be a lot of people made redundant or go on furlough, people who are still working in businesses are often doing more work or are expected to take a more global responsibility than maybe they were before. And so, double hatting, the challenges of time management and maybe understanding an arm of the business that you maybe weren’t responsible for before, in detail, is a big challenge for people.
I think also keeping teams engaged. Leaders have got a real challenge on their hands now, of keeping people, who are working from home or under different circumstances, engaged and motivated under those circumstances. Managing uncertainty is a massive challenge for everyone now and often we’ll look to our leaders, for a steer when we’re feeling uncertain and afraid. So, it’s the job of a leader to manage uncertainty.
And I think managing volume of work, similarly to what I was saying at the beginning about double-hatting, a lot of the businesses I’m working with have got very busy in a different way to how they were used to working, or they’ve got less people doing the same volume of work in order for the businesses to stay afloat. And so, managing volume is another big challenge now. So, probably those would be the four things, I’d say that I’m encountering most, now.
(03:48) So, I thought about this question in terms of being a leader. Self-confidence is, in a nutshell, trusting yourself. It’s the belief that you can cope and thrive with what life brings you. I also think self-confidence is not about thinking you’re better than others; it’s not about thinking you’re worse than others. It’s about being part of a unified whole. So, not playing big, not playing small, being right sized as part of a team.
So, that’s really what I’m talking about when it comes to being a confident leader. It’s belief that you can and will find a way to cope and belief that you are an important part of a whole.
When it comes to leadership, that’s what I’m talking about, when it comes to self-confidence.
(04:44) If self-confidence is about trust – trust that you’ll cope, that you will find a way. And if it’s about being part of a whole – then suddenly, it becomes really clear why it’s so important. You cannot be resilient unless you’ve got a core of trust in yourself, of self-confidence, knowing that something’s changed, but you’ll find a way.
I think as a world, as a country, we showed enormous amounts of resilience back in March 2020, when suddenly everything changed. It was quite beautiful, to watch the rallying and the innovation and the way in which we all were all-hands-on-deck, changed how we were working, to survive.
I think confidence is also important for individuals, teams, and businesses, because otherwise, how can you innovate? If you’re not willing to take a risk, if you don’t trust that if you fail, you’ll find a way to do it better next time, you won’t ever take a risk. You won’t ever innovate. And yet businesses only thrive when they’re innovating.
So, it’s important. That trust in yourself that, you’ll find a way, is so important. It’s that trust that, “Oh, let’s just have a go. And if that doesn’t work, we’ll find another way, we’ll have enough evidence of what doesn’t work to point out what does”. And, I think there’s something about keeping each other going and if we lack self-confidence, we get so lost in our own heads, in our own little stories about things, that we stop thinking about others and looking up and being part of a team.
I think, if you’re self-confident, if you’ve got a level of confidence, you also want everyone else to feel okay about themselves. That’s so important for businesses now, that we are looking out for each other and checking in on our team members. So, self-confidence, trust in self, trust in the ability to fail and pick yourself up and the sub-competencies that sit behind resilience, they’re all vital and vital all the time now.
We’ve already touched on how you think the COVID-19 pandemic has affected self-confidence in employees, but I’d like to dive a little bit deeper.
(07:07) So, I think a lot of what’s happened to people during the pandemic has been taking stock. I’m not talking about people, who’ve lost their jobs and lost their livelihoods; that’s different and I completely understand that. But a lot of my clients and my leaders are taking stock and thinking how I’ve been living, how I want to be living going forwards? Suddenly, pulling back from the crazy commute, meetings, constant in and out of rooms with different people and all of that, has caused people when that stopped to think “Gosh, do I prefer a slower, gentler pace of life?” So, that’s not necessarily a confidence piece, that’s more specifically, to have the confidence to think, is this what I want? Or how do I want to approach my life going forwards? These are questions people are asking themselves.
Probably in the future, what we are going to be facing, there is a fear around a lack of opportunity because, it’s likely we’re going to go into some recession. I graduated in a recession, back in the nineties and it’s a tricky time. There are always opportunities, but we’d have to be innovative and creative in the ways we find them. I think some people will be, because they’ve lost a job recently, they may have got another one and they’re going to be in fear about: Could I lose this job? I don’t want to go through that again. But actually, what I want to say in answer to this question is, I hope in future, we take the lessons from the pandemic and use them to understand how important innovation is and how, when we get set in our ways and we fear change, we lose our confidence.
The world is always changing. We must be flexible, agile, and able to change. And if we, as workers, leaders, team members and business owners understand that, that it’s always about change, it’s always about flacks, then actually COVID will have taught us a great lesson and will help us innovate in the future, which I think can only be a good thing.
Yes, I think we’ve all felt the need to be a bit more flexible and agile this year. And hopefully, that will benefit us all in the future, as you say.
(09:44) So, if someone’s got high self-confidence, probably the first thing you’ll notice, is they look you in the eye. They can have an eye-to-eye conversation with you. They’re not looking down or away all the time but they are happy because they feel okay about who they are, and they trust themselves, they trust in the process of life and they trust you as a leader; they’ll look you in the eye.
Secondly, someone with high confidence tells the truth; isn’t afraid to tell the truth. In lots of businesses with truths hidden, businesses suffer as a result. Against them for with high self-confidence, will know that it’s okay to admit their mistakes. They’re happy to go, “Gosh, I really screwed up there and I need help to make it better, but I will make it better and I won’t do that again in future”, that’s someone with confidence saying that. As well, someone with confidence wants other people to do well.
We were seeing this, weren’t we, at the inauguration recently? The females who were on that stage are women who wanted to bring others up with them (and the men), they want others to do well, as well as them. They don’t want solitary glory, but they want this to be a unified thing. And I also think someone with high confidence listens. I think is a real sign. If you can listen, properly, without preparing your answer, just listen. That’s a confident person.
(11:13) Yes, there is a fine line and I think, it’s all to do with ego. A person who is genuinely confident, has their ego in check. They don’t think they’re better than anyone else, they don’t think they’re worse than anyone else and they understand that they are an important part of a unified whole. That’s a confident person.
Arrogance or overconfidence, as you just called it; those people make everything about them. It’s all about their own glory. And then similarly, people with low confidence, make everything about them, because it’s all about what people think of me. How they’re not enough; are people approving of me?
Real confidence sits in the middle of those two and understands that it plays an important part, but in a whole. And so, the focus is about the whole, not about the little self. So yes, there is a fine line and it’s about ego management.
(12:22) So, we go back to the ‘eye-looking’ thing. If someone can’t look you in the eye, it’s often that they are feeling that they’re not good enough. So, that’s a big thing to look out for. Someone who struggles to speak in meetings. Not someone who sits back and is a reflector and will speak more confidently at the end, I don’t mean them. I mean, someone who you’ve literally got to drag an opinion out of them; that’s going to be someone who is too afraid to have an opinion, in case their opinion isn’t received well and then, they think people aren’t going to like them and then, they go into this catastrophise-thing, headspace of ‘I’m going to lose my job’, et cetera, ‘because I’ve had an opinion’.
So, someone who’s afraid to speak in meetings, someone who checks other opinions before they have their own. I’d be worried there about their confidence. Often, someone who overworks, someone who’s putting stupid amount of hours in, that’s often a sign of a lack of confidence because they think, “Oh, I probably haven’t done it right – I better go and do it again”. And often people who won’t rock the boat; won’t speak up when they think something’s off or not working as well as it could.
And that’s often a lack of confidence. It takes a confident person to say to their leader, “We’re doing this wrong. We could be doing this better”. That takes some confidence to do that, but that person has got the interest of the business at the forefront of their mind. That’s confidence. So, people who are afraid to rock the boat, they probably need some help with their confidence.
(14:09) Yes, I do. Not being willing to hear the truth is a massive problem. There are leaders who will say yes, my door is always open, come and tell me anything and you go and tell them the truth, but they don’t like it and they’re quite verbal about not liking it.
Unless you’re willing to hear the truth, don’t say you want to hear the truth. And the thing is, if you’re not willing to hear the truth, you’re saying to people that their opinions don’t matter, and that’s not cool for confidence. So, always be willing to hear the truth. It doesn’t mean that you must go and act on that truth as a leader. If you think you know better or different, or there’s information that the person who’s bought you this nugget of truth, isn’t party to, but you must be willing to hear the truth. Not being willing to be vulnerable, not being willing to be real, creates fear in teams.
A leader who is willing to own their mistakes, to be vulnerable, to say, “Gosh, I’m worried about my Mum or my daughter had XYZ that happened in the playground, I found that difficult”. A leader is willing to be a little bit vulnerable about who they are; they build trust within their teams. And so, someone who’s not willing to be vulnerable, is a behaviour that I think can be unhealthy. Ruling through fear is a complete no-no in my book. If you want to build a thriving team, don’t use fear as your stick. Don’t use fear as your shield. It’s not going to work.
Playing people and team members off against each other, creating an environment of one-upmanship, is a bad behaviour and it will come back to bite you. And I think as well, leaders who try and be everyone’s friend, blur the line between friendship and leadership. As a leader, a bit like as a parent, you can be obviously friendly and loving and all the rest of it, but the buck must stop with you, as the leader.
And sometimes, as a leader, if you’ve become best mates with everyone on your team, it’s almost impossible then to have to discipline someone or tell someone that unfortunately, what they’ve done that means they’re going to lose their job or that you’re making a decision that’s unpopular. It becomes almost impossible to do that. So, there must be a boundary and I’m not saying don’t be friendly. I’m saying you can’t be best mates with your team members if you’re a leader. You’ve got to keep a boundary there. So, those are some of the behaviours I’d be watching out for.
That’s interesting. So, creating an environment of honesty, of effective listening, but also, with effective boundaries put in place, can foster that.
(17:10) So, I think it’s important. Everyone wants to feel that they are moving forward in their lives and that doesn’t necessarily have to be on specific job skills. That could be on softer skills, some first aid training or taking responsibility for the more practical side of the business, being a keyholder at weekends. I know that sounds silly but any additional responsibility or skillset or training.
Everything’s about expansion; the world and the universe are expanding. Quantum physics is telling us that the human experience is to grow, change, and evolve. So, it’s important that it doesn’t necessarily, like I say, must be on, getting better at your specific job. It could be soft skills: training or some leadership or some management, anything. And I think the reason it’s important is because:
I think, as well, ask people how they’d like to grow. We can assume as leaders that we know what people need, or there might be a set career path that we assume that these people might want to be on, but it might be that, actually, they’ve decided they want to do something else within the business. So, ask people.
And I think as well, rewarding people. We learn and progress, but we need to be rewarded for that. And sometimes, people feel rewarded if they are invested in, with a bit of training or an opinion – ask someone’s opinion, for example. Learning and progression don’t just have to be skilling up. It’s a wider piece, it’s more holistic.
(29:35) Yes, I think it’s really hard to delegate work to people and let them crack on with it, if you are someone who’s done that role before, or it’s crucial to the business, that it’s done in a certain way. It can be tough as leaders to let go.
But in the same way, that if I want my three daughters to take an active role in clearing up the kitchen, after we’ve had our evening meal, I need to leave the kitchen, let them do the dishwasher, wipe the surfaces and sweep the floor. And if they’ve done it well, say “well done”. And if there’s bits they’ve missed, say “Next time, can you put the food from the sink in the actual food bin, please?”, for example.
If I am there, breathing down their necks and saying, “Oh, you didn’t do that; you didn’t do that” or I’m doing it for them, they’re never going to learn to do it. It may be that a glass gets smashed or pot doesn’t get perfectly washed up, the first couple of times, but it’s the only way they’re going to learn. So, autonomy gives people a sense of pride and so many leaders breathe down people’s necks while they’re doing something and honestly, that’s the worst thing.
After you’ve shown someone how to do it, leave them, let them have a go. I think as well, if people do fail, explain to them what’s happened, what’s gone wrong and then, let them fix it. Loads of leaders go, “Oh, it went wrong. So, I just grabbed it off so-and-so and did it myself”. I think that’s the worst thing you can do for self-confidence and for the progression of that person and the business.
So, it’s about being there, being supportive, but letting people crack on themselves. And I get that, that can be difficult as a leader, but it is the only way to grow your business and teams. And ultimately, I suppose this is about succession planning because one of those members of your team might be doing your job one day, because you are progressing up. So, you’ve always got to have your eye on, who’s going to be up and coming into your role. So, it really is about letting go, as much as that’s hard.
(22:02) So, if you’ve told someone they’ve done a good job and you have done something to acknowledge that, that will automatically build confidence. Praise is so underestimated and it’s so valuable, but there are ways to praise people and not everyone likes to be praised in the same way.
So, for example, public recognition for an extrovert is a wonderful reward. But if you were to give that to an introvert, they might think you’re attacking them. So, know your audience, know who you are rewarding. Certainly, being in the world of work, one of the best rewards I ever used to get given, was some surprise time off. You know if our boss said, “Look, it’s three o’clock, on Friday, go home early”, that was like a joy that I felt. So, “You all worked really hard this week, take a couple of extra hours off”. That felt like more reward than money.
Some people would disagree with me on that but giving people some extra time off or flexibility. Money is a great reward, obviously, but giving people a promotion, investing in them. We’ve just been talking, haven’t we, about increasing people’s skills? If you show a member of staff that you really value them, by investing in them, going on a course or giving them a piece of coaching or buying them a book, for example, because they’ve mentioned that this particular part of their job, they’d like to get better at; that says to someone, I value you.
And I think as well before COVID, we used to often go off and grab a member of our team and take them off for lunch. And we can’t do that now, but it doesn’t mean you can’t, as a leader say, “I’m having my sandwich at 12:30pm on Friday. Can you have yours then, as well and we’ll have a little Zoom?”, and just chat about that person’s week. Not them at work, but how it’s going with the kids and how their mum and dad are and their COVID-life outside of work. Those things speak value – they speak of how much you value someone; you know?
As a leader in a team, we are there to enhance the sense of self, our team members have. And we can do that in more ways, than just giving people more money or just giving them a promotion. Spending time with people, listening, acknowledging their hard work in other ways, all adds to the self-confidence pod.
Yes. I especially second your point about surprise time off, I always think it’s a really nice way to recognise how hard people have been working.
(24:54) Definitely, yes. Letting people know what you expect of them and letting them know how well they’re doing and also offering support to enable them to stretch and then getting them to say the same of you; what are your expectations of me, as a leader? How am I meeting them? What do you need from me? Is there anything you did need in that situation, that I wasn’t able to give? That open dialogue is important.
(25:44) All the time. In my work with executives, I am dealing with imposter syndrome daily. Everyone has a dose of imposter syndrome. Maybe Richard Branson doesn’t, but most people in this world, have some imposter syndrome. And the biggest fix to imposter syndrome, is talking about it in a group because when one person admits it – I’ve seen this again and again in my team building sessions – when one person admits it and the whole group goes, “Oh yes, me too”. Then the whole group goes, “Oh, well, I think you’re brilliant. Well, if you’re brilliant and you have imposter syndrome, maybe that challenges my imposter syndrome”.
And they may say, “Why would you have imposter syndrome? You’re amazing at your job”. And that’s that identification and that sharing of truth, being vulnerable, smashes through imposter syndrome, better than any coaching session I can give individuals on a one-to-one basis, it’s amazing.
The power of the group, to be honest about it, is key. So, as a leader, if you can encourage people as a group, to talk about imposter syndrome and you’ll often have to go first yourself, and you might say, “Gosh, when I was 25 and I had my first job and I just felt like I shouldn’t be there”. Members of your team are looking at each other, thinking, I feel like that. Our boss used to feel that. That’s amazing. Encourage a conversation about it. You will see massive improvements with it.
And I think as well, providing situations to prove that imposter syndrome wrong, is also great. So, stretching team members in order that they can prove that what the imposter is saying to them, is a lie. So, give them chances to do better at their job, challenge themselves, have a go at something that’s difficult and do maybe 80% of it and learn the 20% they need. All of these proved that imposter wrong, in the same way that if they don’t stretch themselves and they just stick with the status quo, they’re proven the imposter right. So, this is about vulnerability, being honest and providing opportunities for a new narrative to grow because imposters are everywhere, but they’re all liars.
(28:10) I think the most important thing a leader brings to a team, in terms of soft skills, is authenticity. Being real, honest, open, and a human being, is so important at work. People respond to that. If they feel that they trust that you are real, that you’re open, people will do the same with you. They will trust you. It’s the only way to trust, is to be real.
It’s important that leaders contain the teams with a vision and a well-communicated vision. So, even if the vision must change, often they do, the communication is key. So, a great leader thinks very clearly: Where are we going? Where is North? Tells their team, where North is and what their role is, in getting to North. And that contains people. They feel safe within that, “Right, okay. I know what’s expected of me. I know where we’re going”. And then, if halfway there, the leader goes, “Oh, okay. The business has changed; North has changed”. And you communicate that and go through the same process, people will shift. What they can’t shift with, is sands shifting and no one’s telling them why or no one’s even acknowledging that the sands are shifting. Shifting sands are okay if they’re acknowledged.
I think as well, leaders, you’ve got two ears and one mouth; use them in proportion. Listen – active listening is so important. Not being afraid of change, we’ve touched on this before; it’s key. Change needs to be the suit that you’re swimming in and people just need to get okay with, “Oh right. We’re swimming in a sea of change” – almost to expect change and then it’s not a scary thing.
I’ve made a note about this, when I was thinking about these questions, before we recorded and I think what’s important increasingly, is for leaders to model self-care. So, to actually take time to be with their children or go off at lunchtime and have a run or meditate or buy yourself a decent sandwich and sit quietly by yourself for twenty minutes or to say, “No, I won’t be in work on Friday because it’s my wife’s birthday”, and to take holiday and not be answering emails on holiday.
Modelling the value of self, says to team members, Oh, yes, this is a person and they value themselves. It would be okay for me to take a lunch break. It would be okay for me to say, “Can I have Friday afternoon off please because I want to take my husband out for dinner” or “It’s my Mum’s 60th birthday and we want to travel to her, for the weekend”.
Like modelling self-care, modelling a work-life balance or a ‘life balance’ is very important, because it says very clearly to your team, “We’re human beings, first; we’re human doings, second”. So, those would be the things that I would suggest.
Thank you, that’s a very interesting point about self-care. I think some leaders can think that they must be ‘always on’, but of course it would be detrimental both to their own work and as you say, also to their team in the future.
(31:30) Correct. Huge; it’s a huge point: self-care. Massive.
(31:42) How will you ever innovate, if you’ve never failed? Literally, how will anyone ever innovate, without failure? We must, as a culture, maybe as a world, reframe failure. It’s part of how we grow as people, how we change and how we come up with new ideas.
I fear that we are so afraid of change in our culture, so desperate to stick to the status quo and it kills innovation and businesses. And the businesses, that if you just look at the High Street, for example, now, and obviously it’s been awful, but the businesses that have not innovated over the last ten years, are the ones that have now suffered and we’re not seeing them on the High Street anymore. And it’s a real example. But did they get it right perfectly first time then? Of course, they didn’t. They would have gone through loads of failure to get to where they are.
So yes, we must be okay with failure because it’s how we change. It’s how we grow; it’s how we build resilience; it’s how we build self-confidence; it’s how we grow our businesses. It’s not saying, I’m all for failure. I’m saying, I’m all for failure, if we can see it as a stepping stone to success. There are always lessons that we can take from failure. If we’re clever, humble and mindful, they will lead us to something better.
(33:38) Well now it’s mostly remote, isn’t it? Well, I suppose in the office environment, maybe in other environments, it’s more face-to-face. Onboarding someone, essentially, is all about relationships. When someone comes into a company, they need to know that there are a handful of people they have got a level of trust or understanding with, they could go to, with a question or problem or for a piece of advice, or to just sit and have their sandwich with, whether that’s on Zoom or whether it’s in the canteen.
And so, as a leader, I think it’s really important that you spend time with the person who’s just joined your company, you build that relationship and maybe get them a buddy or two, people who are responsible for taking you for lunch, introducing them to other people, et cetera. Culturally onboarding them into the ways and the nooks and crannies of how the business runs.
And obviously, then plugging that person in, on a relationship basis to the people there’ll be most closely working with and encouraging those people to have conversations, that are not just about work, but outside of work as well. We’ve talked a lot in this podcast about what’s their favourite food and how many kids they’ve got and who their granny is. And that stuff’s important; these are people. So, I think when someone’s onboarding, as a leader we have to think of who the key people are they’d need to have relationships with and how can I facilitate time and space for that to happen.
Thanks, Jo. I think you’ve given our listeners a lot of food for thought, both about their own careers, but also for supporting their teams.
(35:34) Okay, three I can do three and I will tell you now, they’re no different now, to what they were before the pandemic. And they’re no different now to how they’ll be after the pandemic. These are perennial long-term leadership qualities. Okay. So, my three I’ve said:
So, yes, honesty, unity and vision would be my three boss words, but like I said, that’s not an exhaustive list.
About the author
Jo Emerson is an award-winning self-confidence coach and human behaviour expert. She works with clients across the globe, helping them to make positive life changes and to achieve their goals for success. In November 2019, Jo was named International Executive Coach of the Year for her ground-breaking work with leaders and teams. She has authored the book ‘Flying for Beginners: A Proven System for Lasting Self-Confidence’ and has a free confidence building eBook which is available to download here.