Confidence is like a Pyramid

PyramidsIt occurred to me today that confidence is like a pyramid. In order to be tall your pyramid has to have a large foundation. Also, when you’re standing on the tippy top of your confidence pyramid and reaching for the stars, you’re often balancing precariously on a pretty small point.

In order to reach the sky you need a good foundation.

There’s a few ways you can go about this. The first is probably putting in the time to get comfortable, and trying to measure results. Not very confident in home repairs? Do a few small plumbing projects. Assuming you haven’t flooded any rooms, you should have a foundation of confidence and skills that you can stand on while trying new projects.

The shift in thinking for me with this is that I can take a different path to the top. Instead of trying to work on the hardest problems or immediately emulate the success of the most noteworthy people, I can work on executing a series of projects that are within reach.

I’m trying to get better at networking and talking to people I don’t know. I don’t need to walk into the next event and pretend to be Sargent Schmooze, Top Dog. I can speak to 3 people I don’t know at the next event, then 4-5 at the following one. I went to an event last week with the goal of talking to 2 people I didn’t know and it was a big confidence booster.

The more and more people I talk to, the more of a foundation I have to stand on when approaching new people.

Managers Help Build Their Team’s Foundation

If you’re a manager, you have to realize that you play a role in building your team’s confidence pyramid. Here are two things you can do every day to accelerate the building schedule:

1) Set people up to win with projects in or slightly above their skill level, and give clear direction on outcomes. This will allow them to more easily count that experience as a success and add that experience to their confidence pyramid.

2) Give lots of positive feedback, even when you think they know they did a good job, and tell them it’s OK to stretch. One of the things that made the concept click for me was when I realized how many times it took my boss telling me it’s OK for me to take a management role before I truly felt enabled  (our organization is very flat, so it felt like a cultural and organizational shift that people might not be comfortable with, and it represented a shift away from billable time). The point is – one yes, one good job, one keep working on that idea is not much of a foundation to stand on.

You may have noticed this with your employees too. You think they really have a task down and are ready to step it up, and they’re still asking for clarification or permission on the basic pieces of it. This is probably because you haven’t given them enough feedback for them to build up their pyramid. Continually giving feedback helps them more rapidly build a solid foundation, and telling people to keep adding on tiers empowers them to move up more quickly.

Get Comfortable Balancing on a Point

Bringing it back to personal growth, the other thing you can do is practice getting comfortable reaching for the stars without much to stand on. The way I see it, we have pyramids for all the things we do – right now I have a small pyramid for plumbing tasks and a big pyramid for playing strategy and card games. There’s also a confidence pyramid for stepping out of your comfort zone and reaching for new heights.

The more you develop your balance, the faster you can build your pyramids. Different experience represent different sized building blocks – some can represent whole layers of a pyramid. Or, you may work on one project with tasks that represent many small blocks.

While it is possible to get ahead of yourself and build something structurally unsound, you always want to keep in mind that you’re not going to reach the stars focusing all your efforts on the foundation. You need to strike a balance between work on your foundations and stretching at the top of what you’ve built.

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