from R&D Innovator Volume 3, Number 2
Your Staff's Self-Confidence
Tingstad has managed research at Abbott Laboratories, DuPont, 3M,
and Upjohn. He is
past president of the American Association of Pharmaceutical
Scientists, and has also been a professor of pharmacy at the
University of California at San Francisco.
He wrote How to
Manage the R&D Staff (AMACOM Press, NY, 1991)
of a manager's most important responsibilities is increasing
subordinates' self-confidence; employees then have a more
optimistic—but realistic—view of their skills and talents.
self-confidence offers more than psychic rewards.
If employees feel good about themselves, chances are you
will notice that productivity and
morale both improve. Why?
First, self-confident people are decisive rather than
tentative. They can
focus on their work responsibilities instead of worrying about the
reactions of others, and they are optimistic about reaching their
self-confident people are risk-takers, and taking risks is crucial
in technical organizations. These
people are expressive; they forge ahead instead of waiting for
someone else to show the way.
People who lack self-confidence, on the other hard, tend to
play "catch up" rather than focus on progress.
people who feel good about themselves are likely to increase the
self-confidence of those around them.
Self-confident people are respected by colleagues and
management, and they return that respect.
note of caution here: I'm
not talking about over-confidence.
People must accurately perceive their abilities so they
will accept tasks that are appropriate to their skills.
Managers play an important role in working with
researchers, to assign tasks so individuals can determine for
themselves which challenges they can handle.
we decide that improving self-confidence among the staff is a
vital responsibility for a manager, how do we go about it?
By accepting, praising, appreciating, encouraging, and
examine these actions.
your employees for who they are, not just for what they do.
People who feel valued, rather than feeling constantly
scrutinized, will be more secure.
And since secure people are less threatened by mistakes,
security fosters innovation.
(By "mistakes," I'm excluding life- or
corporate-threatening errors, which clearly require drastic
employees develop a realistic form of self-confidence, since they
are more likely to recognize their deficiencies and admit them to
do we translate this accepting attitude into action?
When you see something you don't like, you may need to
stifle the urge to say, "Do it my way."
Instead, both parties may benefit if you let the person
continue and learn. Don't rule out the possibility that you may also learn
something--many chiefs' ideas have been proven wrong by curious,
intelligent, and secure subordinates.
difficult to maintain an accepting attitude in the midst of
others' mistakes, but it will make you a better manager.
managers take the time to listen to their employees, and are
concerned about employees' self-esteem.
Although we all know how good it feels to be praised, many
managers are too insensitive, too busy, or too concerned with
their own egos to praise subordinates.
are some guidelines:
Praise must be deserved, otherwise it will be
counterproductive (or scorned).
A spontaneous comment is the most genuine form of praise.
Never suppress the urge to praise.
Comments should be specific, so the recipient knows exactly
what is being praised.
Expand a specific comment into general praise: "That
memo was especially persuasive; you definitely have a way with
can praise people by recognizing them as individuals or members of
a group. There are
many options here. For
example, sponsor dinners, give out plaques, allow trips to
represent the company, or send a formal letter detailing what the
employee has done so well.
the problem is not an inability to find the proper reward vehicle,
but rather the manager's reluctance to praise.
is akin to praise, but while praise acknowledges that the employee
has excelled at some skill or task, appreciation explains what the
employee's effort has done for an individual, team or company.
appreciate, show your staff how their accomplishments have
benefited you (as well
as the company), and make it clear that you appreciate their
efforts. (If you really have trouble appreciating your
subordinates, ask yourself whether you can meet your career
objectives without them).
the value of praise is determined by whether the recipient feels
it's deserved, the value of appreciation is largely determined by
the giver. Managers should show appreciation when it's due.
This is the right way to treat people; otherwise, managing
appreciation through personal comments and notes, but make it
sincere: “I just
found out that I’ve been promoted. It was partly due to your great work. Thanks!” You
will also find that appreciation will be reciprocated, resulting
in a far more pleasant and productive work environment.
Among the most rewarding events for a manager is receiving
a note of thanks from a subordinate.
does an employee most need encouraging?
After a mistake. This
is when you can help the employee admit errors and learn from
them: One word of
encouragement during a failure is worth a whole book of praise
after a success.
important to appreciate that the greatest threat to
self-confidence is criticism--even a single remark.
Although some believe "constructive" criticism
improves performance and fosters personal growth, criticism is
almost always destructive. Regression, not growth, is the most likely consequence of
the only kind you should encourage among subordinates and
yourself, is the exception in most work environments.
and self-confident group members, who see each other as friends,
are more likely to self-criticize.
Almost paradoxically, external criticism tends to stifle
self-criticism by threatening morale and status.
the manager frequently finds fault, then group members will become
defensive and lose self-esteem.
What is needed is less managerial criticism coupled with
increased managerial praise and encouragement.
is defined as “restoring to assurance or confidence.”
(Reassuring is directed to someone who generally feels
inadequate, while encouraging is a response to something specific,
like a mistake.)
have shown that more than two-thirds of business executives have
feelings of personal inadequacy and doubt.
I’m sure it’s not only top management, but also
researchers, who need reassurance.
like to be praised for what they do well, but they need
reassurance in areas where they are less confident.
Let them know they're making progress in overcoming a
deficiency, that their problem is trivial, or that no one is
Newton, in Uncommon Friends,
gives a perfect
example of the place and power of reassurance:
“When Thomas Edison was improving his first light bulb,
he handed a finished bulb to a young helper, who nervously carried
it upstairs, step by step. At
the last moment, the boy dropped it.
The whole team had to work another 24 hours to make another
bulb. Edison looked
around, then handed it to the same boy.
The gesture probably changed the boy's life. Edison knew that more than the bulb was at stake.”
more important a person is to us, the more we need signals from
him or her that our relationship is healthy and productive.
Therefore, managers must frequently reassure, particularly
in R&D, where the disappointments commonly outnumber the
is a danger: if you overdo reassurance, the beneficiary might feel
patronized. Reassurance is best done empathically—when you try to see
things from the other's point of view and identify with those
feelings: “I know
things look pretty dismal now.
That’s the way I felt just before I finally solved that
sticky production problem.”