When I was growing up as a collegiate basketball player, I often wondered if our team was good because our coach led with confidence and optimism or whether he gained confidence and optimism because we were a talented, confident and optimistic bunch of players. When I became a collegiate basketball head coach, I continued to look at this topic through the lens of a leader. Now as a leader in behavioral healthcare working toward cultural transformation, I must reconcile what appears to be a simple question.
The research on leader confidence leading to increased levels of organizational performance is quite extensive. The findings of such research suggest that workers adopt similar attitudes of the confident and optimistic leader which in turn leads to greater performance.
These optimistic transformational authentic leaders not only portray confidence they demonstrate characteristics such as passion, honesty, perseverance, effective communication skills and of course a positive “can do” attitude. Such leaders “go beyond a simple performance-reward interaction with their employees by elevating their subordinates’ self-image and self-confidence and by tapping into the power of an emotional attachment to the leader’s espoused values and to the overall mission of the organization. This style of authentic confident leadership stresses motivation by faith in the leader as opposed to extrinsic rewards.
We find authenticity in humans when they let their guard down and act as consistent as when nobody else is watching. It is in those moments when we see if the person we know in their leadership position is the same when they are with family or close friends. Are they as equally kind to strangers as they are to their own family? Do they demonstrate the same level of compassion to their family as they do for others?
Authentic leaders are founded on their integrity, vulnerability, and ability to be completely honest. When a leader is rooted in honesty, they promote openness and honesty with those around them. It shows that the leader values people, truth, and ethics over money and shortcuts to get ahead or make themselves look better than deserved.
There are leaders who declare themselves as a leader because they want the control and attention of other people. We often see this in children around their playground dynamics. “No! I want to be the leader!”, maybe one of the most spoken phrases during elementary recess. It is primal in the human mind to desire attention and approval, essentially petting the ego. I mean, who wouldn’t want the power to tell other kids what to do?
This childish mindset, unfortunately, can be seen in work, religious and political environments. Every so often an inauthentic leader finds their way into positions where they can lead with their ego, and authoritarian personality and not their heart. Sacrifice, humility, and commitment to the community or team of which they represent are what makes a true leader. Selfish and self-centered leaders act and think of how this will affect them first as opposed to how their decision will influence their represented group.
Authentic leaders must believe that they are the first to sacrifice and the last to be rewarded. Simon Sinek’s book “Leaders Eat Last” illustrates this as well as any. As well, authentic leaders take the heat for failure and share success with their group. This is when their selflessness must be at 100%. Leaders are somewhat like parents, it is a selfless job that requires a bigger picture perspective rather than keeping a tally of wins and losses. Authentic leaders will show no sign of an inflated ego or self-promotion but will guide others with the sole intention to aid the greater good of the group.
So allow me to reconcile my very first question of this post. Confidence and optimism are related to performance, but quite clearly high levels of performance also lead to higher self-confidence and optimism in a leader. If one does not recognize this reciprocal relationship, one might be lulled into thinking that all it takes to be a more productive organization is to have a more confident leader in charge. Get rid of fake leaders, hire authentic leaders who transform via confidence and optimism and this cycle of reciprocity will begin.