As far as the public was concerned, the 1970 Apollo 13 mission was just another routine space flight. That was until we heard the words, ‘Houston, we have a problem’ (well, in the movie anyway).
The film highlighted just how infectious Gene Kranz’s confidence was. ‘We’ve never lost an American in space and we sure as hell ain’t gonna lose one on my watch,’ he tells his assembled flight team. ‘Failure is not an option!’
Would this have been so inspiring (and effective) if Kranz wasn’t able to lead with confidence? If he wasn’t able to inspire his team to believe that they could make the impossible happen?
In today’s ever-changing business landscape, we desperately need leaders like Gene Kranz – leaders who can … well … lead, and who lead with confidence. Because exercising leadership like this is so much more that having the competence to get the job done. You must have the confidence to make an impact beyond your wildest dreams.
Competence versus confidence
Leadership is seldom easy. Decisions must be made under time pressure and with many shades of grey. You have to inspire your team through a world of complexity and uncertainty, unite them, and give them drive and great purpose. Without confidence, how long do you think you will last? This is especially the case in today’s disruptive climate.
Confidence separates average leaders from great leaders. If you’re competent in your job, you can tick all the boxes and get the job done. You have the ability required for your role, the right level of skills, the right level of knowledge and the right capacity. However, being competent in your job is no longer enough if you are striving to be a great leader.
You must be able to cultivate a culture of confidence in your team and everyone around you so they too believe they can do whatever it is you want them to do. That means you must first have confidence in yourself and your leadership ability. You need to lead with confidence, and so have the ability to inspire confidence in everyone else around you, so they too can achieve great feats.
Cultivating confidence with others starts from the minute we walk into a room, the minute we open our mouths and speak. Often those judgments are made in less than a minute and within seconds. (In fact, a series of experiments by Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov revealed forming a first impression of a stranger takes a mere tenth of a second.)
If, based on how they show up, we believe a leader to be confident, we will assume that they are competent. If we get any sense of a lack of confidence, however, we will assume a lack of competence. This may not be fair, but that’s what judgment is all about!
These judgements also have to do with people’s assumptions about what a leader should look like. If you show up and seem anxious and insecure, or seem to have some self-doubt, you won’t be perceived as a leader because people will think you are a liability, regardless of your actual level of competence and skill to do the job.
So, in order to cultivate confidence in other people, you must first believe and have confidence in your own ability to weather the storms, to perform well under pressure, to learn from mistakes and bounce back, to create and innovate, and to keep raising the bar and driving higher levels of performance.
Setting direction, executing strategy and creating an engaging environment for employees to bring their best all takes confidence. You must have confidence and belief in your own ability before you can instil these in others.