How leaders build confidence in others

October 7, 2019

No matter how gifted, passionate, visionary or energetic a leader is, there is a ceiling to what he can solely accomplish. A leader achieves much more than his individual capacity through collaboration with others. This is called synergy. It is for the purpose of leveraging synergy that leaders take time to assemble great teams because of the recognition that the feat they are able to record is a function of the quality of the people working with them. What a leader does is to multiply his capacity and extend his reach through the people he surrounds himself with.

However, the assemblage of first class team members is not a guarantee for success. The leader still has to take a step further in order to ensure the optimization of the team members by building confidence in them.

What is confidence?

Confidence is having a firm understanding of and belief in your ability and the value you can add to either your organization or your clients. It is not an overestimation of your capacity; that is arrogance. Neither is it an underestimation of the same; that would be poor self-esteem. It is an appropriate assessment of what you are capable of doing at a point in time. Without a proper evaluation of your ability, there cannot be an adequate estimation of your person. Confidence is critical to productivity because a lack of it drains energy and creativity. Skill without confidence is nothing. Talent that is devoid of confidence is a disaster. Lack of confidence robs an individual of passion and vigour and what could have been a masterpiece is turned in as a jejune performance. Whoever is drained of confidence has the void filled with apathy and the effect is that he is able to achieve just a fraction of what he is capable of.

Sources of confidence

Self-confidence is both internal and external in nature. Self-confidence is hiked when an individual knows that he is not worthless but rather a value-adding member of a group. Those who have low self-confidence are plagued by the thought that neither they nor their contributions amount to much. They think that everybody around them believes this. Consequently, they fail to bring themselves to the point of doing as much as they are capable of doing. Eventually, what they fear catches up with them because they come up with low productivity.

A retreat into history: Mahatma Gandhi

After earning a Law degree and being called to the English Bar, Mahatma Gandhi got a brief from a woman, Mami Bai. When he got to court and was to cross examine a witness, Gandhi lost the confidence to put his thoughts together and interrogate the witness. Instead, he collapsed into a chair in the court to the utter amazement of everybody. His problem was that he never thought he was fit for what he had to do. He never believed in his ability to perform the functions of a lawyer. He later offered to refund the 30 rupees he had billed the client. However, the same Gandhi was later to shrug off his timidity and refused to be cowed by his South African oppressors and was also able to shake the British Empire to its very foundation as he led the nation of India in a revolt against colonialism.

How did the timorous Gandhi shed the toga of low self-esteem to the extent that he was able to challenge the almighty British authority? At the initial stage, he had to over-prepare himself, sometimes having to rehearse ad infinitum (without memorizing) nearly everything he had to say. As he gained confidence after each encounter, he became more surefooted and was able to speak off the cuff once the line of discussion was defined.

The point is that the key to self-confidence is competence which, more often than not, is a product of preparation. The more prepared a person is the more competence he gains and the more confidence he has in his ability.

External sources of confidence

Irrespective of a team member’s level of self-confidence, an inappropriate utterance or a negative suggestion by the leader will deflate it and make him look ineffective and lower his self-esteem. Every member looks up to the leader; he is seen as the final assessor. Therefore, a leader’s actions and inactions, with respect to the members, go a long way either to boost their confidence or rob them of same. So, the leader is the most important external source of self-confidence for team members. Whether an individual realizes his full potentialities or not rests largely on how the leader builds confidence in him or fails to do this. One of the responsibilities of a leader is to help others increase their belief in themselves. This is done by helping them to appreciate and build confidence in their abilities. A leader is not supposed to make his followers eternally dependent on him; rather, he is supposed to build confidence in them to the extent that they are able to conduct their affairs without having to revert to him. A leader achieves this by showing that he believes in the protégé. A leader who wants his followers to be tied to his apron string perpetually is not leading correctly.

How leaders build confidence in others

There are many ways leaders build confidence in their followers. Some of them are discussed hereunder.



According to Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of needs, the most basic of man’s needs is love. A leader demonstrates this to his followers by expressing appreciation to them. A good leader is quite generous with appreciation and praises for any exceptional act carried out by those he leads. By showing appreciation, confidence is built because the follower’s belief in himself is deepened; he is encouraged to do more of what is appreciated. A ‘thank you for a wonderful job’ or ‘this is great’ said to a team member is a tonic to him because it is a mark of recognition of his worth. This is even more effective when it is done in the presence of others.

To help team members believe in themselves, the leader has a responsibility to appreciate every positive contribution they make. A leader must deliberately appreciate the attributes he wants his people to develop. Each time a staff member exhibits such attribute, the leader must endeavour to appreciate it. This encourages the staff to do more of that. It is, however, important to ensure that what is appreciated is significant so that the appreciation does not lose its essence.

Focus on strength

A leader is supposed to focus on the strength of his team members, not the weaknesses. In most cases, the leader’s focus becomes the follower’s focus as well. If the leader should focus on the follower’s areas of strength, this will lead the follower to also pay attention to these areas and do all in his powers to develop them. Contrariwise, if a leader always talks about the weaknesses of the team member, that is what engages the mind of the follower and he will neglect the strength. This is counter-productive because it s easier to get more from the areas of strength than from the areas of weakness. So, as a way of building confidence in others, it is best that leaders focus on their areas of strength instead of highlighting their weak points.

Don’t micro-manage

Leaders who do not give free hand to their subordinates kill the creativity, initiative and confidence of the subordinates. Allowing people to have a sense of being in control does a lot to their confidence. The thinking is that “for the boss to allow me to do this, he must have a lot of confidence in me and I must give a good account of myself.” But when a leader does not give enough room for those working with him to work without him having to breathe down their necks, the message is clear that the leader does not have confidence in the people. If the leader does not have confidence in the people he works with, it would be difficult for them to have confidence in themselves.

Show understanding in failure

The road to being a success is strewn with many failures. So, it is not unlikely that those working with you will fail at one point or the other. When this happens, it is not the time to hang them or let them know how worthless they have been all along. It is time to show compassion and understanding. It is time to let them know that you will be with them and support them. It is time to let them know that failing does not make a person a failure. It is time to let them know that failing is learning how not to go about an activity in future. Doing this will help them to overcome the distress of failing and boost their confidence level.


Apart from helping people to hone their skills, sending staff members on training programmes passes a message to them that their contribution is valued. Training staff is an investment in them. Since no one invests in a worthless person, the staff members that are sent for training see themselves as being valuable to their organizations and this boosts their confidence level and encourages them to do more for the organization.

Be a model and a teacher

To build confidence in others, a leader must not only model what he wants to see in them, he must also inculcate this in them. A leader must practise what he preaches for it to make sense to others but stopping at that point is inappropriate; he must also be able to teach his followers how to become who he has become. This is done by paying attention to their growth and spending time with them to share his thoughts and knowledge with them. The effort of the leader to spend time with them and share experience with them increases their confidence level and they believe that they can become as good as the leader. As observed by Winston Churchill, “If you want a person to demonstrate a virtue, impute that virtue to him in advance.”

Last line

When a leader imbues self-confidence in a team member, he sets him up for exponential growth.

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