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Jon Dean

Impellus Ltd.

Managing Director

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How to lead when management optimism falls to its lowest level in a year


Confidence. It drives sales, forces decisions, changes culture and creates or destroys attraction.

Changes in management confidence therefore have a major bearing on organisational performance. So when a study of the confidence of 3,600 managers from across the UK shows a significant drop, it’s worth understanding the implications for your people.

Particularly when the reasons for that drop may well be out of your control and may just be here to stay for a while.

The research findings

When asked whether things are better, the same or worse for managers than at this time last year, the number suggesting that things are better took a significant dive in July, falling to its lowest level in over 12 months.

This suggests that managers are fearing that they’re not making the progress that they want either in their roles or their own careers. Knock-on effects can be significant as their motivation affects that of their team and can allow problems to creep in.

As the survey is conducted across all sectors and sizes of organisation, as well as from junior to senior managers, the drop can reasonably be attributed to ‘macro’ conditions such as economic or political situations. A recent election, Brexit and economic uncertainty could all be factors that are filtering down to affect their confidence.

Of course, these factors are all out of the control of the senior leaders of organisations. However, it’s the senior leaders who need to know how to ensure they are best placed to face this change in mood. 

A senior leader’s guide to dealing with a dip in management confidence

Peter Drucker, the management consultant author, famously said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. In other words, setting out a strategy or a goal is of no use if your people aren’t properly prepared, organised and of the mind to deliver it.

So a senior leader should understand that management confidence is either a major conduit to delivering on a strategy or a significant barrier to it. Allowing confidence to slip can have major and costly effects. To ensure your organisation is best prepared, you should consider the following:

Leading by example

Consistently reinforcing where the organisation is heading and revisiting the vision, mission and values of the organisation is more powerful than many leaders believe.

Sir Terrence Leahy, the man who built the Tesco we came to recognise, said that repeating the company’s vision, mission and values to his teams for 14 years was the most valuable thing he ever did. It displays an infectious confidence to managers and staff alike.

Take the external view

When nothing is said it creates ambiguity so you need to talk about the things people might worry about before they start talking about them. It’s your job to correctly analyse the macro environment and communicate its likely impact. (When was the last time you properly conducted a PESTLE analysis)?

If you don’t do this and communicate how you’re prepared for the future, people can be knocked easily either by watching the news, talking to friends or family, or even by the pub bore with a bearish outlook on everything in life!

If your strategy or tactics need review because of your findings you need to make the right changes and communicate these accurately to your managers and teams.

Take the internal view

You can’t fix a problem like loss of confidence without knowing that it’s creeping in in the first place.

Managers may not at first wish to admit their challenges for fear of feeling incapable and unless you go and talk to them openly on a regular basis you don’t really have all the facts on what’s happening in the organisation. If confidence is falling across the board, what makes you think it’s not happening in your work place?

It’s no newsflash that good listening is an important leadership tool but one which might now just be a critical one.

Avoid knee-jerk changes

Big, even internally branded changes that are designed to re-engage people rarely work. Worse, they can become reminders that your supposed changes are ok to be ignored.

Constant engagement and multiple small changes that improve morale and results are nearly always more successful. People are more confident and resourceful when they can see how their efforts are contributing to the organisational mission and its ongoing results.

Particularly so when they’ve had input in those changes.

Celebrate the small successes

If confidence creates culture, and culture is the conduit of success, that culture needs to be fed on success and the belief that success(es) are possible and within the means of the team.

There are many well-documented ways to reward successes from well-delivered praise to lavish treats. However, it’s imperative that the acknowledgements are meaningful.

Rewarding behaviours or results which aren’t truly successful won’t have the desired outcome but can instead make it look like you’re unable to motivate through ‘tougher’ methods such as mentoring or coaching.

Look at the opportunities

If macro conditions are making managers frustrated, there could be a recruitment opportunity. In times of reduced confidence some managers may start to consider their next career move if they don’t see a future path. If your house is in order you might have a talent advantage over competitors.

If you’re looking to recruit externally it might be interesting to see whether a general downturn in confidence increases the number of good candidates looking to move on and potentially bring good external views and knowledge to your organisation.

And what if it turns out to be a blip?

So, what happens if it turns out that this dip in confidence is a blip and the current uncertainty turns out to be misplaced?

Well, aren’t the subheadings of this article the subheadings of good leadership? Whether confidence plummets or picks up, you’re well placed to keep a management team that believe in the organisational vision and can motivate their teams.

Author Profile Picture
Jon Dean

Managing Director

Read more from Jon Dean

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