7 Ways to Build Your Employees’ Self-Confidence

UPDATED: January 22, 2016
PUBLISHED: January 13, 2016

No matter how smart and skilled your employees are, if they lack confidence that they can make a difference or that their voice will be heard, they’ll perform below their potential.

“My boss gave me this big new project and said he knows I’m the guy for the job. But I’m not so sure. I could use a sounding board, but I’m afraid I’ll look stupid if I ask for help. I’m not sure I can pull this off.”

“My manager is always telling me I’m doing great, but she never gives me any details. I’m not so sure. Quite frankly, I don’t think she’s really paying attention.”

“My boss says I’m his go-to guy. He’s always telling everyone how smart I am, but I think he’s got me pigeon-holed. If he really thought I was that good, he’d be expanding my role. I’m beginning to wonder about my future here.”

In each of these scenarios, the well-intentioned leaders were trying to build confidence, but their words aggravated the doubt.

Building confidence requires real conversation, not surface accolades. It starts by understanding what’s really going on.  It requires getting into the muck and working a few levels below the obvious insecurity to understand what scares them.

The good news is that building confidence and competence go hand in hand. Confident employees are more likely to try new behaviors and approaches, which breeds creativity and more success.

These seven techniques will help you build a more confident, competent team:

1. Treat them with deep respect.

No one wants to feel like a project. Connect with them personally and really listen to what is going on. Listen to the verbal cues they give about their lack of self-confidence and then treat them like the high-performers you know they are capable of becoming.

2. Be specific about what’s right.

“You’ve got potential” will fall on deaf ears to someone who doesn’t buy it. Be as specific as possible with examples when giving praise. “When you said X, did you see the conversation change? You are making a difference.”

3. Have them teach others.

Take note of their very best skills and gifts, and have them share with others on the team. If they know they’re good at something specific, they’ll be more apt to have the confidence to speak about it with their peers. If they resist, start with having them help someone one-on-one and then evolve to bigger gigs.

4. Help them prepare.

Nothing builds confidence more than being the “smartest” guy in the room. The truth is, nine times out of 10, the “smartest” guy in the room is really the most prepared. Let them know that and ensure they do their homework by role playing the scenarios they’re most likely to face. The next time it will be easier.

5. Celebrate incremental improvements.

Have you ever tried confidence bursts? They’re like running or training bursts, followed by a period of “active recovery.” You can build more confidence and competence on your team by training them in intervals. It’s not the grueling hours, but the constant pushing on limits and stretching of competence levels that leads to growth.

6. Scaffold achievements.

Sure, throwing an employee into the deep end and having them figure it out may build confidence, but only if they don’t drown in the process. Far better to create a framework around them that provides support and check-ins along the way.

7. Encourage them through mistakes.

When an employee lacks confidence, even the smallest mistake will affirm their feelings of inadequacy. Help employees realize that failure is indeed a step to success. Teach them to “fail forward,” to make the most of their mistakes

Yes, building confidence takes time and energy. It’s worth it. It creates long-term impact for the employee, for the team and for your company. Turning around confidence will rank high on your personal lifetime leadership achievement awards. No one will call it out, but you’ll know, and so will they.

How do you interact with employees? There are 8 common styles—find out which one you are, plus how to leverage your strengths and weaknesses.

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has more than two decades of experience in sales, customer service and HR. She’s the author of two books: Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss.