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How to be a confident boss without sounding like a jerk


Confidence – that magic elixir that draws employees to a manager like bees to pollen. How do some managers exude confidence and others just come across as know-it-alls?

It’s not as difficult a question as it might seem. Confidence is essentially a positive state of mind. Think about it – bad managers generally project negativity – bringing employees down with criticism, micromanagement and treating everyone like interchangeable parts rather than as individuals.

Here are some other ways to shape your communications so that you can sound confident without offending your employees.

Respect comes first

Some managers mistake abrasiveness as leadership and rely upon a command and control style of management. That ”my way or the highway” mindset doesn’t instill respect and, in fact, encourages an atmosphere where employees only do what is asked, nothing more.

Confident bosses know that commanding respect requires giving respect. Respect can be shown by:

  • Delegating tasks, giving clear deadlines and trusting that the job will be performed well
  • Not second-guessing decisions, particularly in front of others
  • Giving credit for successes large and small
  • Not gossiping or showing favoritism
  • Expecting progress, not perfection

Disrespectful managers mistake their titles as power, a chance to run their own dictatorships. They confuse aggression with positive assertiveness. They will meet employee questions with some version of, “Because I told you to do it.”

Confident leaders know their people need to work as a team and their responsibility is to lead the team. Instead of taking the “because I’m the boss” approach, confident leaders will take the time to explain situations. For example, they may say, “The corporate office asked us to do it this way. I really need you to do this now, but let’s set up a time later to talk about the reasons for their request.”

Create opportunities for improvement

Confident bosses allow employees to accomplish tasks, make decisions and assume responsibility. When something goes wrong, or is simply heading in the wrong direction, they step up and give guidance. A good way to start a positive discussion can begin with, “How do you think the project is going?”

This creates a dialogue that gives employees the opportunity to talk through their decision-making process. Such insight makes it easy for you to make suggestions for improvement, with comments such as, “What about next steps?” or “Why don’t you talk to Sarah? She handled a similar customer issue last week. She might have some insights.”

Indifferent leaders let team members fly without a safety net, refusing or ignoring their role as coach. They might say, “You wanted the responsibility – you figure it out.”

Successful bosses focus on results and clear goals to grow their employees’ skills. Their feedback might begin with, “Well that didn’t go as planned. Let’s talk about our opportunities to learn from this. What do you think the problems were?”

Continuous building makes a great team

Confident managers think ahead and know that they are successful when their team members can step into their jobs. By creating a continuous learning environment, these managers groom their teams to perform better and grow in confidence and skill.

A confidence building discussion might begin with, “John, you’ve shown great leadership on project X. Are you interested in more projects like this?” From such a discussion, more training, more advanced projects or different projects may result.

Confident bosses know that they’re only as good as the people working under them, so they find ways to help their people do their best. This doesn’t have to be complicated. A quick, “How’s it going?” can convey concern, interest and knowledge to employees as well as open the door for guidance.

One size does not fit all

Positive leaders recognize their employees’ strengths, goals, motivations and triggers, and change their styles to fit each team member’s needs. They know that one leadership style does not fit all.

For example, they take the time to learn who needs a soft, indirect approach, such as “Have you thought about…” and who responds better to straight talk “Hey, this isn’t working. Let’s talk about some changes.” Managers who just assume employees should adapt themselves to their styles, like it or not, likely won’t earn much respect or loyalty from their employees.

It is increasingly common for work teams to be made up of multiple generations, genders, life stages and nationalities. This reality makes it more critical than ever for managers to be cognizant of how they come across to employees.

To be that great manager who everyone wants to work for, you’ll need confidence not just in yourself, but in your team, too. In the end, it is your positive attitude that determines whether you come across as a confident boss.

Looking for some more helpful leadership tips? Get our free guide, How to Develop a Top-notch Workforce That Will Accelerate Your Business, to learn seven leadership principles that can help you build a better workplace.