The biggest barrier to remarkable achievements in our workplaces is not a lack of resources or a shortage of great ideas. Rather, it is a distinct shortage of a very personal attribute: self-confidence.

Of all of the challenges of serving in a role responsible for others, guiding and developing individuals who lack confidence in their own abilities is perhaps the most difficult. It is easier to exorcise a poor performer or a person who seems to operate with a set of values incongruous with those of the firm, than it is to help build up someone who struggles in his or her mind with their own abilities. Sadly, those lacking in self-confidence often are inappropriately lumped into the poor performer category, not because they “can’t” but because they “don’t.”

Most managers ply their trades sans any formal expertise in the realm of psychology. As such, we are left to our own designs to attempt to understand our team members and provide the right environment and push the right buttons to stimulate their interest and motivation. Mostly, we flail and for many, we fail.

If you have worked to try and help an individual who struggles to recognize his/her own gifts and abilities, you can relate to how difficult this challenge truly is. We try moral suasion, quiet appeals to assert, loud notes of encouragement that fall on deaf ears, and at some point, we show frustration and even disappointment. Every one of these behaviors exacerbates the problem.

Instead of attempting to bludgeon or argue someone into a state of improved self-confidence, why not diversify your efforts? Here are six ideas to help you help those who struggle with themselves. No psychology degree required.

Six Ideas for Leading Employees Who Struggle with Self Confidence:

1. Accept that you cannot control or change the individual’s belief in self through excessive cheerleading or browbeating or anything in-between the two. Change is up to the individual. Your best starting approach is to offer your respect and empathy (not pity).

2. Offer very clear, positive feedback when earned. The more specific you are about what it was the individual did to achieve a positive outcome, the more valuable this feedback becomes.

3. Positive feedback is best served warm with a big helping of feed-forward. Coach Goldsmith’s idea of feed-forward: discussing and defining what strong behaviors look like in the future, can serve as a target to aim for, particularly after the positive behavior was observed. Armed with the knowledge that he/she has successfully exhibited this behavior before, the barriers to achieving it in the future are diminished.

4. Tailor your developmental activities for the individual to move forward in small increments, not big leaps. We talk a lot about “stretch goals,” and much of this talk is playground bravado that would have been prefaced by, “I double-dog dare you…” at an earlier age. Keep the stretching very, very light initially; leverage the feedback/feed-forward techniques described above and gently work with the individual to define his or her own next stretch.

5. Choose who you spend your time with carefully. If given the option to invest in someone who struggles with self confidence, but brings good character and values that align with my own and the firms, versus attempting to rehabilitate the values-deprived jerk with mad gray matter, I will back “character” every time.

6. Balance the needs of your stakeholders and accept that you may face a tough decision. If someone does not respond to your thoughtful support as outlined above, you are left with a dilemma. You cannot sacrifice the organization or team to individuals who under-perform for an extended period, regardless of their potential in your eyes. Be kind, clear and decisive when if that time comes.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

It is painful to see someone of talent struggle under the weight of self-doubt. Our instinct is to push, challenge and prod. In this case, instinct is wrong. Empathy and support are essential, but leave the audacious goals and other bad management motivation ideas at home. Personalize your support and exhibit belief and patience. Remember, no one said this job would be easy.

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