What qualities do high-performing employees have in common? Many leaders in organizations measure employees’ skills and motivation as predictors of their performance, but there is a third, often-overlooked factor that is essential to predicting both job performance and satisfaction: confidence.
Alex Stajkovic, M. Keith Weikel Distinguished Chair in Leadership and Associate Professor of Management and Human Resources at the Wisconsin School of Business
In a series of studies, my colleagues Dongseop Lee of Korea University, Jessica Greenwald of St. Ambrose University, Joseph Raffiee of the Wisconsin School of Business at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and I looked at whether confidence can predict individual performance and attitudes.
First, we had to figure out how to measure confidence. Because we conceptualized confidence as not directly observable, we identified four traits—hope, resilience, efficacy, and optimism—that we hoped would represent measurable indicators of confidence.
This made our research more challenging, because now we first had to establish that confidence indeed lies at the core of hope, resilience, efficacy, and optimism, and then show that core confidence positively affects employee performance and attitudes.
Through a number of studies, we discovered that hope, resilience, efficacy, and optimism were highly interrelated and provided evidence that these variables share the same connection to confidence. In addition, we found that this core confidence is positively related to performance and satisfaction with one’s life and job. In one study, we found that sales associates with higher confidence sell more, earn higher commissions, and are generally more satisfied.
Without confidence, or with doubt, even highly skilled and motivated employees can struggle to handle their duties, which can lead to dissatisfaction with one’s job and life, and can contribute to disengagement from work. More confident employees tend to focus more on the task at hand than on negative thoughts brought by doubt.
In addition, core confidence is a relatively stable individual characteristic, meaning that it is unlikely to change over time. Individuals draw on their experience to assess their ability to handle new situations, therefore organizational leaders should carefully evaluate potential employees’ previous work experiences—the more similar that they are, the more likely new employees will be able to handle new challenges.
Ultimately, when an employee encounters roadblocks in the workplace, we feel it is his or her self-regulation that is critical to the successful completion of a task. My co-authors and I believe that the foundation of this self-regulation is the trait core confidence, which makes it a good predictor of an individual’s ability to overcome challenges on the job.
To sum up our findings in a memorable phrase: those who believe achieve, those who doubt go without. We’ll examine this idea further in our future research on core confidence, gender, and leadership.
Read more about this topic in our paper “The Role of Trait Core Confidence Higher-Order Construct in Self-Regulation of Performance and Attitudes: Evidence from Four Studies” in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.