11/08/2014

By Kate Lanz, Leadership Coach and Consultant

Being promoted to a new leadership level is both an exciting and a risky moment for any leader. The additional responsibility, the delivery expectation and often finding themselves in a new relational matrix frequently puts the new leader well outside their comfort zone. In their keenness and anxiety to prove themselves a psychological response can be triggered. They can fall into the ‘confidence trap’ of overusing their overt confidence-winning formula that has helped get them to where they are.

While this confidence veneer can last for a time it requires enormous energy to maintain. Eventually, it will affect stress levels and well being until the leader either burns out from the pressure or they leave their role before they are ‘discovered’.

So what are the tell-tale signs that a leader is falling into the confidence trap and what can they do to get out of it without losing face?

Here are 5 questions to ask yourself or a colleague to ascertain if you’re falling into the confidence trap:

1. Do you truly listen to other people’s opinions? Leaders who are on the brink rarely understand what people are saying and are not open or curious about the content. They will often already be formulating a response to what is being said before the person has finished speaking.

2. Do you feel the need to always have an opinion or an answer? Being able to say you don’t know or to simply ask a question in order to genuinely understand an issue more deeply is not something that is easily undertaken.

3. Do you know what you do to try and impress people? Understanding your confidence winning formula and the behavioural pattern behind it is important.

4. Do you feel connected to the people around you in your new role? A leader who is in the confidence trap will usually feel a sense of disconnection and isolation from those around him or her.

5. How tired are you at the end of the day? Leaders in this situation will often find themselves tired out and stressed at the end of the day. Maintaining a veneer of confidence is a tiring exercise, draining them of energy and vitality.

Answering these questions honestly will highlight leaders at risk of becoming trapped as a confidence trickster. Sometimes it is difficult to take an honest look at ourselves, if this is the case, leaders will need a trusted friend outside of work to help them understand how they are behaving.

Simply ignoring these issues is not an option. If leaders do not get out of this trap it is only a matter of time before they fail in their new leadership role.

These five questions will help generate a sense of self-awareness so steps can be undertaken to liberate the leader, without loss of face. Release from this trap is not easily done though and requires constant application and practice.

An easy exercise is to practice simple relaxation techniques. This helps to reduce the body’s automatic response that is triggered when we feel under threat. It’s not possible to switch this response off but it can be reduced. Simple breathing exercises help to relax and calm the psychological and physiological response. Five breaths in and five breaths out for a minimum of 10 breaths. Use this at the beginning of the day, and at any time when is needed.

Make an agreement to ask at least two or three questions before an opinion is proffered. Really listen to the answers and look for signals that the other person senses you have genuinely taken in what they are saying.

Focus on those moments of connection or disconnection with people. At the end of each day reflect on how you would describe the quality of the relationships and how they might have changed during the course of the day. What was done to improve these relationships, or equally what was done that did not help. Measuring each relationship will help leaders understand how they can be improved.

Reflect and review each day and avoid being on automatic pilot. Jot down when the confidence-winning formula is triggered. If the day could be rerun, what could be done differently?

These exercises should be done for at least 21 consecutive days. Being self-aware, understanding and identifying triggers will help escape the confidence trap. Leaders will also learn a lot about their own responses and how to create meaningful relationships with those around them. That’s the key to successful leadership.