What is confidence (or false confidence) anyway? Webster’s Dictionary says confidence is:
- A feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities:
- The feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something.
- The state of feeling certain about the truth of something
I’m not sure we recognize when someone or ourselves, are truly confident in our abilities or qualities. We look to others and marvel at their command of what they have to say. We believe that they have the answers and a strong confidence in themselves, their beliefs and abilities. Somehow we feel diminished in their presence because of their demeanor. We look up to these people, wishing we had what we believed they have and only see what we’re missing. However, are we really so sure about the confidence they seem to possess?
What Is Confidence
I had been a manager for a little over two years. I was excited about what I was doing and constantly looked to my more experienced peers to see what they were doing. Because they had been doing it for a while, it stood to reason that these managers would have the answers I was seeking. We all worked remotely from each other so any contact we had happened through conference calls, emails, by phone or when we were together in our quarterly meetings. For the most part, I was more of an observer than a participant. I just didn’t feel I had much to offer these more experienced managers. In other words, I lacked confidence. Some had been awarded “National Manager Of The Year” so, I felt they were way out of my newbie league.
It was in the fall, and the management team was to convene in California for a bigger than average meeting. The company felt it would be a good time for the frontline managers to participate in training for more effective team management. I was very excited. I knew this would give some guidance in that area, and it would give me a chance to spend time with the other managers.
I took a risk and called the most experienced and respected manager in the company, who lived in California. I asked if she (I will call her Marie) would mind if I could come out a day or two early to talk with her about how she managed her team. Marie was thrilled and was very happy to accommodate my request.
The day had arrived, and Marie picked me up at the airport and took me out to dinner. She was so flattered that I wanted to spend time with her; she had arranged for me to stay with her until the meetings convened. We had a blast. She wined and dined me. She avoided my many questions saying there would be time enough for that. So we had fun.
I learned allot about Marie as a person. She shared that she often felt isolated from our peers. We bonded in the two days we spent together. The night before our meeting Marie set time aside to answer my MANY questions. She listening, answered questions, asked questions, discussed my many observations then laughed saying I already knew what I needed as a manager, to trust my instincts. I was dubious but was flattered nonetheless.
Everyone greeted Marie very warmly. It surprised me because she had mentioned that she felt isolated from them. She made a point of setting next to me. I was delighted.
The meeting began as they always did, with intros and any additional information a manager wished to share. I was amazed at the list of accomplishment each manager expressed and felt a bit out of everyone’s league. When it came my turn, I just stated where I was from and how I was interested in learning something from everyone in the room.
The first part to of our five days provided information about a new product the company was rolling out and what they expected from each of our teams.
Then we started the training portion. I was ready. The instructor gave us the rules of the road. One of the rules happened to be that everyone was required to give their opinion when a subject as it was discussed. All I could think was “OH Crap! What could I possibly offer this group”? Marie stated I shouldn’t be concerned, have a little confidence in myself, that I had more to offer than I realized. All I could think was that was easy for her to say.
It was fascinating to me. All the managers seemed to have such great answers and knew what they were doing. I took a million notes. When it was my turn to answer or participate I pretty much mirrored what the group had already said. Marie was quiet much of the time, occasionally offering a few sage pieces of information.
After a little bit, Marie pulled me aside and gave me this advice. She said; “You shouldn’t always be so agreeable. Do me a favor and listen carefully to what everyone is saying. When you do, then check to see if what you hear adds up. Then let’s talk about what you think after class.” I nodded and thought: “I’m not sure I would see or hear anything other than everyone else was so smart, but I would do as she asked.” At first I thought it was all a futile attempt to have me learn something from all the experience in the room.
Then I started to notice that when someone would offer up what they did to improve sales reps performance, then someone else would suggest what they were doing that was better and on it went. It was like a fisherman discussing who had caught the biggest fish. Each manager’s sales techniques and demonstrated improvements kept getting more and more grandiose. I offered little in the discussion as was the case with Marie. I was mesmerized. Questions kept rolling through my mind: “Could these things really be done? Were they even possible? If so, how? What was I missing?”
The instructor was continually pushing each of us for more clarification regarding how we managed our teams and what we would do differently. At one point, I had put some of the items that were being bandied around on paper to see if they added up. No matter which way I arranged the facts, there was no way possible that any sales rep could accomplish what these managers asked of them in a day, a week or a month. Simply put, there was not enough time in the day to do everything these managers said they required of their sales reps. I thought: “Am I wrong? What am I not seeing? What didn’t I understand?”
Over the next day or so, I keep my thoughts to myself. That night, Marie asked me what I was thinking so hard about. I shrugged and said something kind of inane like I wasn’t sure this was all very helpful. She looked at me and started laughing so hard that it embarrassed me. She told me not be embarrassed that she thought I was starting to figure it out. This time she asked what I had observed. When I shared my information she didn’t laugh but nodded her head. When I asked what she thought of my observation, I also asked what I may have missed. She smiled and said; “Kind of like who caught the biggest fish, huh”. I blushed and then smiled and then we both laughed.
The five days were almost at an end, and the instructor was pushing everyone for their next steps. The biggest fish stories emerged again. Somewhere deep down a kind of courage surfaced and I asked the instructor a question. “May I offer an observation?” The instructor answered, “Yes, please do!”. I then outlined how I couldn’t quite see how any of what was being offered could work, given the time an individual sales rep had, in a day, a week and a month. The room went very quite, and the instructor asked my friend what she thought, and she said; “I’ve been wondering the very same thing”. You could have heard a pin drop in that room.
The instructor then gave us our homework. We were to outline a plan for our individual sales teams. We were to present our homework on the last day of our training.
I felt like someone who had stepped in a very smelly cowpie. No one would look at me or acknowledge me except Marie who put her arm around me and said let’s go get a drink.
It was the last day, the day we were to present our plan to the group. I had worked on mine the night before, with Marie’s advise and help. I had prepared my plan on a handout for the group. As luck would have it, I was to be one of the last to present my plan. Crap!!
As I watched the presentations from the other managers, I was amazed at the flip charts, flow charts and variety of visual aids that were used to explain what their plans were to reach their team goals. All I had to show was a simple paper handout. The worst part was all our bosses were to observe. I was ready to crawl under a rock.
It was my turn. Marie gave me a pat on the back and a thumbs up. I stood in front of the room. I stared at my peers who seemed pretty proud of what they had presented. I thought, “I’m going to make a fool of myself “. I handed out my simple presentation sheet to everyone, with a very specific and simple outline of my plan. It took me all but a few minutes to give an overall description, then more details of each step in my plan, and then I asked if there were any questions. No one said a word. The instructor asked if I felt confident with my plan? I thought for a minute and then simply answered, “Yes”. The instructor then said; “A pearl of wisdom from Susan’s mouth to my ears, thank you”. I stared and then looked at Marie who smiled and winked.
Afterwards, Marie gave a great gift. She explained that just because a person sounds as if they have all the answers doesn’t mean they do. That a show of false confidence is easy, where real confidence takes courage. She went on to say that it’s important to be observant, always listen carefully, assess everything, come to your own conclusions then seek counsel to check. She explained that I should never undervalue myself or think someone else is always right. Follow your instincts, keep it simple and have confidence in your own abilities.
Marie became my mentor, and we remained friends for many years after.
I can’t say I was always a great manager and that I always had the right answers, but I did learn always to be observant, to be a good listener,seek counsel and have confidence in my instincts.
So have you ever doubted yourself, felt a lack of confidence and out of your league? What lessons have you learned about confidence from these experiences?
Life’s journey continues…