“So, in your own words, what do you think makes you the best candidate for the job?”. I ask people this question on a daily basis at work as part of the initial screening process for job applicants. The question relies on the premise that the person to whom I speak is confident enough in their abilities to sell themselves, to convince me that they are my best choice. Regardless of skills, which can sometimes differ little between people, the element which increases an applicant’s appeal and makes them stand out the most is confidence. Believing in your own abilities is a sure-fire way to persuade others to believe in you, enhancing your original confidence and creating a reinforcing cycle. This very characteristic has been identified, honed, and analysed by myself during my time in Management 300, leading me to theorise that confidence operates on three distinct tiers: confidence in oneself, confidence in others, and confidence in the external environment. By developing confidence at each of these levels, you move from a façade of confidence that is easily shattered to an authentic expression of the trait that extends beneath the surface. I have watched my own levels of confidence in each of these areas grow and change over the past twelve weeks, along with encountering challenges that hinder its development, which stemmed mainly from the external environment. From this I have learnt that true confidence emerges only when built at each of these levels, as pure self-confidence is not enough when it is hindered by a lack of faith in others and in the environment. The interaction of these three elements forms a solid base which underlies my journey from the ‘fake it’ to the ‘make it’ side of the confidence paradigm during the semester.
At the start of the course I did, initially, perceive myself to be a confident person. In most situations I find it easy to make friends, I am not shy speaking in front of a group, and I can talk non-stop for hours. However these aspects all relate to social confidence, which I soon realised differed from my actual confidence in my own abilities and worth. As I appeared outgoing, my group no doubt interpreted me from the get go as a confident individual, though in reality this trait lay only skin-deep. When you are plucked from your usual surroundings and placed in a new setting in a designated role, having to deal with a program which you have ever encountered nor understand, your self-confidence levels presumably drop, as happened with me. Peter made it clear during the first week that Management 300 was not a typical class, nor were the students familiar to me, and to make matters worse I discovered a large portion of our course would revolve around our manipulation of an advanced simulation software, which I feared would expose my technological incompetence. The only ‘silver-lining’ was my belief that I could use my social skills to my advantage, hoping that my extraversion would be interpreted by my teammates as knowledgeable opinion. My psychology study had harboured within me a fascination with team dynamics and their operation (Sketcher, 2014, July 31), yet it was hard to have faith in an entirely new set of people whose abilities and traits I was yet to understand. This shaky confidence gave way to a fear of the unknown, which soon morphed into anger as my frustrations towards SoloMike and my inability to reach that elusive $25 grew (Sketcher, 2014, July 31). Day by day I tried during that first week, eventually realising that Katzenbach and Smith’s (1992) notion that a strong performance ethic and a ‘never give up’ attitude led to success was slowly failing me, and my self-confidence fell further.
Before I begin to deconstruct and analyse the reasons for my low self-confidence and its eventual rise, the important function of my newly formed team begs attention. After discovering early on that our team was intentionally placed in the underdog position by a select few who judged us on our initial ability, my confidence in our overall success potential diminished. However in hindsight, by overlooking my narrow, performance-oriented view, it is evident that some positive functions were taking place in my team. Like myself at this point, Christensen (2010) mentions how many companies focus on their abilities to maximise profits as quickly as possible, whereas taking a step back to consider factors outside of monetary gain and clearly identifying your purpose can reap better rewards. In this instance, these rewards developed in the form of team cohesion, as we united “in determination to fight our odds and perform to the best of our abilities to prove to ourselves that no one could hold us back” (Sketcher, 2014, August 07). Rather than allowing the situation to deflate our hopes, we utilised it to motivate ourselves and focus our energies on mastering the very machine that had contributed to our current disadvantage: MikesBikes. In this way, while my confidence in my team’s abilities to achieve a high SHV did not dramatically increase, the resulting unity built confidence in my teammates, who I began to see as a group of determined, hardworking individuals.
As the competition progressed, it became apparent that other teams did not share the same levels of mutual confidence which we did. This was most prominent during week eight, in which I read a journal entry by a person who blamed the recent drop in their team’s shareholder value on the sole fact that they were not present at the meeting to guider their team (Lowe, 2014, September 26). I then noticed a handful of similar entries from other individuals who were quick to point the finger at other teammates who had supposedly let them down. Despite finding ourselves in last place in our industry after the second rollover, no such negativity or blaming could be found in any of my team members’ journals, nor in our interactions with each other. So why did the claws come out in some teams when performance took a downward turn, yet not in others? Upon closer inspection I began to notice that these teams who turned on each other were often those which had initially performed exceedingly well. These individuals may be compared to Argyris’ (1991) highly skilled professionals, people who are talented at solving external problems but use little inward questioning or reflection, a process known as ‘single-loop learning’. Few failures accompany those who demonstrate this thinking style, meaning the individual will not (or rather cannot) learn from their failures (Argyris, 1991). It is easy to see how this type of behaviour would encourage a person to search for concrete, external causes to their problems, such as blaming another team member, instead of turning inwards and examining how they – both as an individual and as a team member – contributed to the cause.
On the other hand, my own team started from a position of vulnerability, and were unified not on shared ability but on shared motivation. I believe the latter reaches deeper, as it signifies a synchronisation of goals and an interdependence on one another. My team faced hardships together – such as in our disadvantaged formation and in our initial unsatisfactory MikesBikes results – before we faced success. We had even formally established how we would interact and our expectations of each other at the start of the course in a signed contract we titled the Fusion Partnership Agreement (Fusion, 2014). This made our successes that much sweeter, for by combining significant effort and determination we clawed our way to a leading position, able to rejoice in our continuous improvement. On the contrary, those that originally experienced only success may not have banded together in such a way, meaning that when negative results occurred, team members sought to find the ‘bad egg’ that had let them down, as opposed to owning the decisions collectively and focusing on problem analysis. Instead of using journals to vent, my team read and commented on each other’s’ unprompted, which further encouraged confidence as I felt my team had my back not only at meetings or on our group Facebook page, but in everything I did. By offering support, a listening ear, and making collaborative decisions, our team developed a solid confidence in one another that outranked any shareholder value we obtained (Sketcher, 2014, October 10).
Ultimately this lead to a confidence growth within myself. My preliminary feelings of apprehension regarding reflection (Sketcher, 2014, July 24) and my inability relating to my SoloMike performance (Sketcher, 2014, July 31) slowly gave way to self-assurance. By week five I tested the waters by vowing to strive for risky decisions over safety, not to the extent of recklessness but to obtain the satisfaction that comes from knowing you took all the chances you could, leaving no stone unturned (Sketcher, 2014, August 20). I developed new ways to deal with the novel situation of running a simulated bike store, realising that my old learned behaviours of relying on social skills to get me through were inadequate (Davies & Easterby-Smith, 1984). I combed meticulously through the repots after each rollover, not only of my own department but of those from others, and began to understand the linkages and graphs. While I had always been a vocal individual at meetings, my opinions became more concrete as my understanding developed and I was able to support myself with data as opposed to mere guesswork. Despite my fear of conflict, it was at this point that I decided to constructively challenge any opinion I disagreed with in order to facilitate better decision making and prevent groupthink (Sketcher, 2014, August 28). As my confidence in those I worked with grew I developed a greater self-confidence, which came across at meetings and further fostered their trust in me, highlighting the interrelated nature of these two confidence levels. Over the following weeks, this reinforcing cycle began to mould the confidence façade that I wore when entering the team into an authentic, core confidence that was less permeable to challenges.
Though important, this cycle would contribute little to my success if I did not have confidence in the external environment. While the first two confidence elements are essential, they cannot function successfully if you cannot trust the outer environment to be just and fair. The environment includes other students, with the contentious decisions of those who formed the teams resulting in a polarising shift within me, as my team confidence grew while external confidence decreased (Sketcher, 2014, August 07). These other students and the course itself both formed integral aspects of my external environment, and in letting the scandal occur I held them both accountable, the former for initiating the action and the latter for allowing it. In order to develop within your role, you need to have confidence to be able to respond to the unpredictable nature of the external environment (Davies & Easterby-Smith, 1984), however this can be difficult as there is a myriad of things out of your control which can breed many unforeseen circumstances. It requires placing your faith in the unknown, hence why first establishing a core confidence in oneself and in those with whom you work leaves you better equipped to deal with the curveballs the world throws. Likewise, there are generally encouraging factors to be found in the external environment that increase confidence, such as feedback. My learning journals have constantly been augmented by thoughtful and kind feedback from fellow students, providing external reassurance to my own writing abilities. Even when the comments contained critique, my internal response to it turned from irritated self-defence to consideration and positive change as I incorporated the feedback and learned to acknowledge others’ points of view. By taking advantage of these opportunities for growth while simultaneously remaining resilient to setbacks, I found confidence could be built in the external environment, despite its unpredictable nature.
After deconstructing these confidence components, each part must be synthesised to establish how they function together. As evidenced from my analysis, self-confidence and team confidence very closely related, forming a reinforcing loop whereby the growth of one leads to the growth of the other. The external environment, on the other hand, appears less connected. It is worth mentioning that though in my situation I was able to draw a clear line between my team and the outer world, in many cases these two elements may blur together. In the workplace for example, a manager may sit on the boundary line between a teammate and the external environment, connected with you to an extent but not forming part of your immediate team. For this reason, the line between these two confidence levels fades and becomes more of a continuum, with confidence slowly developing outwards. This leads to another essential question: what happens when an individual develops confidence on one level but not the others? In Management 300, I believe this may have happened to some skilled individuals who entered a team feeling confident in their own MikesBikes abilities, yet unsure of their teammates and the course. Though self-confidence exists here, it is inhibited by a lack of confidence in others, as the individual does not know of their team’s abilities nor if the members will acknowledge their ideas, and likewise is not confident in the external environment as we were told to expect new challenges in multiplayer MikesBikes that were not present in SoloMike. In another regard, having confidence solely in your teammates is reminiscent of Oakley, Felder, Brent and Elhajj’s (2004) description of a hitchhiker – someone who attempts to coast along on the hard work of others – whereas sole confidence in the external environment sounds merely like trusting fate to deal you a good hand. Confidence must be built at all three levels in order to be authentic, providing the individual with a solid foundation to draw upon when facing new situations.
In evaluating the effectiveness of this confidence model, it must be examined in a broader context. As many students, including myself, question the relevance of our university studies to the reality of the workplace (Sketcher, 2014, September 25), I feel it is important to establish how the model operates in the world of work. Unlike seasoned professionals, graduates are more likely to enter the workforce with less self-confidence, anxious about bridging the gap between theory and practice within their chosen field. When I first began experimenting with MikesBikes I felt as though little of my previous knowledge was any use due to the novelty of the situation (Sketcher, 2014, September 25), a similar feeling I had when beginning my first corporate job as a Human Resources Administrator. Despite nearly four years of studies, I felt that although I knew a great deal of theory about human resources, I did not actually know how to be a practicing human resources professional. In order to ease this transition, the business school is increasingly incorporating team-based learning as a reflection of the trends of the working world, as we will no doubt work within teams at some point in our careers. Team confidence is therefore essential, with commitment to your team listed by Spreier, Fontaine, and Malloy (2006) as one of the six elements that create a strong work climate. By fostering good relations with your colleagues, the cyclical nature of the first two levels of confidence again emerge, as team members help you to learn the ropes, allowing you to simultaneously build confidence within yourself and with them. In regards to the external environment, it is important to have faith in the organisation you work for, both in a moral sense in that their core values align with yours, and in a financial sense in that you believe the company is heading in the right direction. Having confidence in each of these levels allows you to perform your job to the best of your abilities, letting you take setbacks in your stride without permitting them to shake your confidence.
Authentic confidence takes time to create. The more foreign the situation, the longer it takes. Through my experience in Management 300 I have come to learn that in order to be a truly confident individual who can face challenges without being overcome with doubt, I must build confidence at three distinct levels. Internally speaking, confidence must be built within myself in regards to my own abilities, obtained mostly through practice and reinforced through the help and encouragement of others. This links closely to the second element, confidence in others, which is necessary to ensure your abilities and ideas are acknowledged by those around you and vice versa, allowing you to reach your full potential and simultaneously build team cohesion. An upward spiral of confidence growth is thus created, which was promoted in my MikesBikes team by the challenges we faced together which bred unity and goal synchronisation. A lack of such can lead to a group of individuals in the place of a cohesive team, where each person relies on his or her own self-confidence and does not bond to the same degree, meaning difficulties can divorce the group. Lastly, you must build confidence in the vast and unpredictable external environment, particularly in the relevant structures within which you are contained, whether that be a university paper or an organization. This last factor has its own challenges due to its broad nature and the lack of control we may feel we hold over the actions of those in power and the structures themselves, however having confidence that these forces are fair and just helps us to feel our efforts will be appropriately rewarded. These factors interact to create a three-tiered foundation of confidence that is stronger than a singular model, allowing an individual to be resilient in the face of change and perform to the best of their abilities unhindered.
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