One of the things which can go wrong with talent development is managing and turning round loss of confidence. High potential, energetic and ambitious people are assumed to be immune to it. But stuff happens. Things go wrong. Not just in work – outside of work too. Commonplace events like relationship breakdown, illness and bereavement, even the difficult behaviour of children, can have a significant impact on an individual’s level of confidence in their role. However senior they are and however many talent lists they appear on.
One of my horses Ruby reminded me recently that it is a leader’s responsibility to notice this and to vary the degree of support which they give situationally , to not make assumptions regarding individual or collective levels of confidence based on previous performance.
Having not ridden my horse for 8 months following an injury, I had eagerly jumped back in the saddle when she was fit again ready to pick up exactly where we left off. What could be a more perfect way to start than a relaxing ride through rural Wiltshire. No traffic involved. What could go wrong!
Well – nothing did go wrong – or should I say I didn’t get hurt – but only because I was well secured into my Western saddle. We returned to the farm safe but both with our confidence diminished because what had been OK for her 8 months earlier now clearly was not. We had to start again extending her – and my – comfort zone gradually. And with me providing much stronger leadership than I had needed to the previous year.
What is the learning here for talent development? For leaders? Very simply put – don’t make assumptions about confidence. It is hard won and easily lost. At times, like my horse did, we may need the kind of leadership which metaphorically “holds our hand” for a little while, helping us to restore our confidence, giving clearer direction and more support, until we are ready to stride out in the same way as before.
Loss of diminishment of confidence manifests in many ways. Signs of disengagement from task or team on any level, hesitation when it comes to decisions or an increase in stress levels. It is a lot harder to talk about losing confidence than it is to try and cover it up. So as a leader you will need to notice the signs. Then explore. Have a conversation. Do some coaching.
Most importantly remember, and remind, that regaining a lost confidence can make us stronger, more capable, more robust than we were before. Because we know how to transcend difficulty, and to support others to do the same.
As a rider, a business-person, a coach, I have experienced loss of confidence many times. My advice? Learn to see it as an opportunity to regroup and relearn what you already knew. Then you will know it even better. You will be better for it.