Emerson once said, “If I have lost confidence in myself, I have the universe against me.” We are living in times when panic is running high and confidence is running low. It’s a time when people leave work on Friday and wonder if they will have a job on Monday.
Confidence is an essential ingredient of any leader. Confidence is not only important for you as a leader but for everyone around you. I’m not talking about a confidence that is absent of reality but one that is grounded in a belief that the best days are ahead if you persevere.
In her book, We Shall Not Fail – The Inspiring Leadership of Winston Churchill, Celia Sandys (Churchill’s granddaughter) describes what she calls contagious confidence. Sandys writes, “Inspirational leaders are beacons of hope. The project an aura of confidence and resolve that is quite literally contagious. Churchill had this gift. So did Roosevelt, Truman, Patton, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and more than a few of today’s leaders. They inspire followers and get things done.”
Sandys writes of how Churchill inspired others with his unwavering optimism. “Churchill met this test of inspiration on many different levels. Beyond his speeches, there was perseverance: his beaming smile and bulldog glare, his defiance, and of course, his physical and mental energy. Churchill’s spirit was seldom crushed. The morning after the first blitz, Churchill drove to ground zero: London’s East End and the docks. That first blitz set the tone for dozens more. Churchill brought his V for victory sign, his cane, his tears, his words of strength. Leaders go straight to the front line, and Churchill often arrived while the ruins were still smoldering. When he called out to the crowd, asking if they were disheartened, they cried back, “No!” Churchill had come to feel the nation’s pain, to give the people resolve they would need to face the months and years ahead.”
As confidence rises in you as a leader it will rise in your organization. Allow me to share three reasons why confidence matters.
First, confidence matters because it gives hope. During World War II, there were many dark days, and Churchill’s presence with his troops gave them the morale boost that they and the country needed to survive. Hope within your organization is a prized commodity. Your ability as a leader to inspire hope and confidence will set the tone for how it moves forward.
A hopeful leader encourages those in his organization regardless of the circumstances. Thomas Edison’s laboratory was virtually destroyed by fire in December, 1914. Although the damage exceeded $2 million, the buildings were only insured for $238,000 because they were made of concrete and thought to be fireproof. Much of Edison’s life’s work went up in spectacular flames that December night. The next morning, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.” Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver his first phonograph.
Hope is the lifeline of your organization. It matters to a confident leader.
Second, confidence matters because it’s contagious. When Churchill would visit the smoldering ruins of London, he would ask the men if they were discouraged and in unison they would say “No!” Churchill had a way of inspiring his nation and inspiring his troops against all odds.
Inspiring confidence in your organization in the face of an economic recession is not something you psyche yourself up for. The essentials that made your organization unique to begin with; the people, the product, the service, are the foundation from which you lead. Inspiring confidence is simply the reminder to your people that while the economy may be weak, the people in the organization are strong.
John McKay, of the NFL, tells a story illustrating the confidence of University of Alabama football coach Bear Bryant. “We were out shooting ducks, and finally, after about three hours, here comes one lonely duck. The Bear fires. And that duck is still flying today. But Bear watched the duck flap away, looked at me and said, ‘John, you are witnessing a genuine miracle. There flies a dead duck!”
Hope is found when the leader is confident; even when the economy seems to be taking flight.
Finally, confidence matters because of its residual impact. Instilling confidence is not a short term fix to get through a segmented time frame. Certainly, the benefit of confidence is sustaining during these times, but confidence is to be built upon.
Confidence matters to a wise leader because he understands the long range value that confidence places in the organization. Once the difficult time passes, the organization is now positioned with the benefit of learned resilience to achieve a greatness once maybe considered unattainable.
Last summer the world watched as Michael Phelps swam his way into the record books and into the hearts of millions of fans around the world. In his book, No Limits, he shares what some may not know. In the fall of 2007, Phelps fell and broke his wrist. With swim trials on the horizon, a wrist in a cast, Phelps could easily have given up. Through hard work and unimaginable training, Phelps turned that setback into Olympic Gold. The residual impact of confidence during the dark times is what kept him motivated and positioned him to win once he was healed. Confidence in the bad times makes you stronger in the good times.
Challenging times calls for confident leaders. Be the leader that points the way with hope.