Leadership: The confidence gain

Leaders should build self-assurance on honest feedback.

There are winners and there are losers. Everyone knows that. Or do they? Almost 75% of North American CEOs believe they are better than other leaders in their industry, according to a recent survey by Refinery Leadership Partners Inc. That’s a statistical improbability, points out Rosie Steeves, a principal with the Vancouver-based consultant.

While confidence is a good leadership quality, it shouldn’t come at the expense of self-awareness, ironically something that often comes from others. Just 21% of the 151 execs surveyed participated in either mentoring, coaching, undergoing an assessment or taking on a new role — all of which are known to create real behavioural change. Instead, they believe reading books is an effective way to develop their skills.

Bosses who can’t admit they need help also aren’t likely to inspire employees to tell them the truth about what’s happening or how they’re performing. “They have to spend more time internally and recognize that actually impacts exactly what shareholders want,” says Steeves. “They’ve got to be visible, build relationships, ask questions, and gradually people will speak.”

Boards of directors can be one sounding board, but they’re often more out of touch than the CEOs. One practice that Steeves recommends is that the entire executive team develop their skills together, much the same way other employees learn. “That can change things because it gives them that environment where they can be vulnerable, ask great questions and have tough conversations,” says Steeves.

Being vulnerable doesn’t mean being weak, but leaders have to recognize they don’t have to know it all.