by Tracey C. Jones, President, Tremendous Leadership

(As seen in the Jul/Aug 2018 issue of PAHCOM Journal) 

For most of our entire professional lives we've heard speakers talk extensively on how to work with others. We've taken hundreds of hours of courses explaining how to engage employees. So why does it often seem to anyone with a couple of years of "managing people" that its one step forward and four steps back? Why haven't we solved this riddle? After all, we're all human beings. We have the frontal lobe cognitive resources, opposable thumbs, and the intrinsic motivation to conquer the world. We can do it! But why is it so hard?

The key to unlocking the self-regulating, autonomous, critically thinking, and fully engaged participants we all dream about is this: Self-Efficacy. Researchers define Self-Efficacy, or SE, as deliberately or intentionally exerting positive influence and confidence. It’s not “I plan to do it” but “I can and shall do it.”  I've often referred to SE as the “Theory of Motivation” because at its core is the seed of greatness found in each one of us. SE is manifested every time we use our skill and our will to climb the hill. In other words, it takes ability, as well as willingness, to achieve the goals set by leadership. The question is, are we willing to nurture this potential within each of us? Or, do we do our best to starve it to death by not engaging in personal growth, or poison it with our toxic attitudes and selfish behaviors.

SE is closely related to the personality trait of Extraversion which is the energy, positivity, and adaptive capacity you bring to every situation and especially, challenge. We are familiar with organizational culture, but often stop short of identifying its cause. Atmosphere doesn't appear; it must be created. The culture found in any organization is a conflux of the attitudes, behaviors, and values of all its members, not just the leaders. The culture is set by the collective Self-Efficacy of everyone in the organization. One of my favorite metaphors is, “Are you a thermometer or a thermostat?” If the climate in your workspace is cold and toxic, do you passively reflect that atmosphere? Or, do you come in with an attitude of accountability and a "can-do" spirit and turn up the temperature?

They say certain people brighten a room when they enter, others…when they leave.  You’re either a fountain, or you’re a drain. If you are teaching and modeling high SE behaviors and attitudes, you'll fall into the first category. But here's the key—this cannot just fall on the leaders' shoulders. SE is a requirement for every single participant in your organization, even your volunteers, board members, and vendors.

Leaders manifest Self-Efficacy when they step up to meet complex challenges. Their primary function is to manage change and exhibit levels of confidence in the knowledge, skills, and abilities associated with leading others. Followers manifest Self-Efficacy when they manage systems. They are willing to be led and to put the organizational needs above their own. They come alongside the leader to "co-lead" and adopt exemplary Organizational Citizenship Behaviors (OCBs).

Collective, or organizational, efficacy is the product of the synergy between leaders and followers. There is an ongoing and collaborative exchange where the more the leader gives to the follower, the more the follower gives to the leader, and the more the organization excels. This engagement catapults teams from mere working groups to collaborative entities who function as self-regulating collectives capable of enforcing standards and finding solutions at the lowest level.

Sounds like Utopia? It is, if you think you can achieve this while promoting Leaders in Name Only (LINO) and keeping alienated, passive, or conformist followers on the payroll. We send sick people home when they come to work with a physical illness. Why do we let stinkin’ thinkin’ infect the workplace with invasive negative attitudes or subversive behaviors? Toxic emotional contagions can wipe out your company as quickly as any virus, crisis, or competitor. You just cannot have excellence in any organization if you do not promote and enforce excellence and SE in each of your participants.

Self-Efficacy is an inside job. It is all about developing your inner terrain so you can deliver better outer performance. That choice is up to everyone. The organization can nurture this by providing Means Self-Efficacy which focuses on providing a supportive and enabling environment to give participants the means to become the best version of themselves in the workplace context. There is also Cognitive Self-Efficacy where we don’t solely focus on employee performance, but also on employee development. Organizations that promote Self-Efficacy—and eliminate those who are not committed to it—show the employees who are that they are serious about creating a high SE culture.