Leadership FOR Confidence

If it’s all about confidence (see Jan. 27 post) then what role do leaders play in creating the foundation for confidence? In Confidence: How Winning Streaks and Losing Streaks Begin and End, Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that as leaders, we are responsible for both the hard and the soft of leadership – the structure and the soul as she puts it.  As school or district leaders, this is how we create the foundation of confidence for our teachers.  Kanter writes:

Leadership is not about the leader, it is about how he or she builds the confidence of everyone else. Leaders are responsible for both the big structures that serve as the cornerstones of confidence, and for the human touches that shape a positive emotional climate to inspire and motivate people.

The hard of leadership is providing the structure, the systems and the routines that create a consistent experience for the adults we work with.  It’s about sharpening the collective vision and creating purposeful opportunities for everyone to be involved in the development of that vision.  The hard of leadership is about establishing predictability in how things are done and ensuring that the vision for the school or district remains clear.

Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success.  Leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall. (Stephen Covey)

The soft of leadership is the soul – the human touches – that deepen relationships, establish trust, and create a collective loyalty toward the team and the vision of success.  It’s the little things that make people feel valued, encouraged, and confident that they are part of something important.  As much as we drive the vision (hard) we must come in behind that vision with support (soft). 

My take on what Kanter suggests has always been that No one gets off the hook, but no one should be left unsupported.  Let’s break that into two parts.

First, no one gets off the hook. As leaders, we have to establish an environment where no one gets a pass on being current.  We wouldn’t accept that in so many other professions – surgeons, lawyers – and teachers are no exception.  Of course you can’t make someone change.  The point is that you, as the leader, never waver from the expectations that teachers be the very best they can be and that their practices reflect what we now know about learning.  It’s not okay to opt out; it’s not okay to take a pass.

However, no one should be left unsupported. For some, change is difficult and we must be patient as people come to terms with what the vision of the school is asking of them.  We have to support our teachers by removing the barriers (real or perceived) that keep them from taking the first step.  We have to recognize that everyone is along the change continuum and it may take time for some to come along with us.  That has to be okay. Some people need more support; others are more independent.  As leaders, we must recognize the individual needs and have reasonable expectations for when they will put both feet in. Maybe they are not sure they can do it; maybe they don’t want to.  Either way, our role as the leader is to find out why, provide the necessary supports, and encourage them to keep an open mind.

If we only provide the structure – the hard – then the vision could drive a wedge between us and our staff. We will be asking them to take professional risks without allowing for the messiness of those risks. If we only provide the soul – the soft – then everyone feels comfortable and supported along a journey to nowhere.  If we provide both, we create the foundation for confidence through a positive emotional climate that inspires people to push through their own perceived ceilings of excellence.

5 thoughts on “Leadership FOR Confidence

  1. Tom,

    I think both are such important qualities. I’ve had jobs in the past where my boss was either a hard or a soft leader, and it never led to as good an environment as when my boss was both a hard and a soft leader. Those are the people who get the most done, because people have the confidence to take action since they know they are supported. Great post. I have a feeling I am going to be a regular at your blog!


  2. Tom,

    This is a super post – very thoughtful and I really like “No one gets off the hook, but no one should be left unsupported”. The relationships that we build with our staff, students and community are key to moving things forward. Yes, the vision is also critical too – would hate to have the ladder leaning against the wrong wall. Very nicely articulated. Thanks for sharing!


  3. […] Capacity is a little different.  Once I know I now have to believe that I can…that I have the capacity to execute the plan, practice, etc. Fluency is a precursor, however, it doesn’t guarantee that I have – or feel I have – the capacity to move ahead. I might know what it’s supposed to look like and I might be able to tell you (fluency) but I might not believe I’m capable.  This is why I have come to believe (and subsequently wrote) that leaders should “Lead for Confidence” […]

  4. I really enjoyed reading this post, Tom!

    I can relate to these roles and implications as program coordinator (with my staff) and also as a teacher (with students). When is the second part of this post going to be released? I have a meeting with teachers on Nov 18 and I would love to use this information as a stepping stone to brainstorm for ideas towards the changes and future implementations that need to be made in our small school community.

    Thank you for the insights.


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