Yesterday evening, I had the opportunity to speak with my father-in-law. As a professor and educator, he traveled to the remotest parts of Peru to teach; as a senior corporate executive, he served in a multinational company; and, after escaping the Shining Path, he emigrated to the United States to become a successful entrepreneur. He faced enormous adversity growing up in poor and challenging conditions, which may have contributed to developing an incredible amount of strength, grit, resilience, and exceptional leadership capabilities. Curious about all these experiences, I asked what advice he would give someone to deal with change. He had three recommendations. First, have a plan to move forward; second, rely on your support system; and third, be self-confident and find your inner authority. I was especially intrigued by his focus on "inner authority" at the same time, not surprised, as he embodies the definition of sure-footedness and confidence.
After our conversation, I reflected on several situations in my life when this inner strength seemed distant and countless examples when I observed others struggling with change. Noticeable was the lack of self-confidence needed to move on, being overwhelmed by adversity, or simply the feeling of being a victim of their current situation. I started to think through how leaders can foster a culture that encourages everyone to find their inner authority:
It can be done! Over the years, I have learned that one of the most important leadership characteristics is creating an open-minded, can-do culture. Back in my cruise-line days, I had an amazing boss who created a culture where everyone had the confidence to take risks and make it happen. One day, we arrived on a deserted beach in Socrates, Yemen. He decided to organize a surprise beach party for the passengers, and everyone was worried that we could not pull it off due to limited time to prepare and all kinds of other logistical issues. He reassured each crew member that they could do this and encouraged them to think outside the box, ask for help, and do what they thought would make the customers happy. It turned out to be one of the most galvanizing events for the crew and a highlight for all the passengers. Simply, he gave everyone the confidence to succeed.
Setbacks are set-forwards! I strongly believe, individually and as a team, that discipline, structure, or a healthy routine can be a huge differentiator in turning setbacks to set forwards. Taking the initiative and accountability for solving problems fosters self-confidence. Over the years, I have been part of many root-cause analyses following an issue, an outage, or a breakdown, and I found that when we bring a disciplined learning mindset to what we can improve, we emerge as a stronger organization. However, I have also seen the opposite happening when fingers are being pointed, people hide from accountability, and blame games are the norm. These are indicators of a toxic culture that can undermine anyone's inner authority and, therefore, must be addressed immediately.
Recognize your worth! Uncertainty causes fears and anxieties and can be a massive inhibitor in building self-confidence to deal with change. My father-in-law has no self-doubt; the concept is alien to him. However, he is not over-confident, arrogant, or a "know-it-all", but recognizes his worth and what he brings to the table. Regardless of setbacks, mistakes, and major challenges, he is always confident that there is "a path" to move forward – his path. I think he is deeply aligned with his values and therefore was willing to stand up to authority, make significant life changes and always follow his purpose. I have started to be quite analytical when I find myself in a situation where I feel uncertain; I ask, "why do I feel that way"? Is it because I don't have all the knowledge needed, am I resisting the change, am I too comfortable in the current situation, or am I getting distant from my true north and my values and my worth? These questions and analysis allow me to identify critical steps I can control to move forward, which can be a first step in building inner authority.
Positivity energizes! Fostering a kind, positive, and fun-filled environment can encourage idea generation, better problem resolution, and improve change readiness. To me, a positive frame of mind instills confidence that we can always make a difference, solve the most challenging problems, and make the world a better place. The best example of how positivity energizes comes from early in my career when I had to notify my boss about a mistake. Instead of the expected punishment, I was met with absolute curiosity, kindness, and a willingness to explore the matter. I left the office reenergized and confident that I got this. I often remember the leader's advice to me: "Issues happen all the time. What is important is what we learn from them and what steps we are taking to move forward". It is not about the issue, rather about how we respond.
Curiosity beats judgment! Every time! The judgment trap may be one of the biggest barriers to a robust inner authority. To use Adam Grant's mode of thinking – we all fall into our respective preacher-, prosecutor-, or politician ways of judging a situation or a person. He encourages us to think like scientists who are curious to learn more, want to be proven wrong, and get energized by figuring things out. I believe this approach can significantly contribute to building self-confidence and your inner authority to deal with significant challenges or change ahead.
Can-do, learning from mistakes, self-worth, positivity, and curiosity are all critical elements to consider when fostering a culture that promotes self-confidence and inner authority to deal with the toughest challenges. I have adjusted a quote I read somewhere: "Self-confidence and your inner authority can be a SUPA power. Once you start to believe in yourself, the magic starts happening." Don't take it from me; take it from my father-in-law.