How we feel about ourselves influences our decisions, but it also influences how others feel about us. One of the more interesting studies in this area was the one lead by Craig Roberts, who was at the University of Liverpool at the time, as reported in the “The Scent of Man” (The Economist, December 20, 2008 edition).
Essentially, Roberts’ team found that men who wore cologne were more attractive to women. Here’s the interesting part though: women never smelled the cologne. All they did was watch videos of the men. Since the men felt more self-confident by wearing the cologne, they carried themselves more confidently. Apparently, how men move has significant influence on women’s evaluations of their attractiveness.
Since attractiveness influences perceptions of competence and in turn compensation, improving another’s self-confidence will alter how others perceive them and their work. Others will treat them better, which can synergize and influence their performance. People do better when they feel good about themselves and their talents.
Yes, there is the danger – and the reality – that the incompetent move ahead simply through displaying high levels of confidence. However, the converse is also a danger – and very real – that the competent don’t move ahead because they display low levels of confidence. This is especially true for sensitive people. These dangers only highlight that often people’s self-perceptions differ from reality.
Nevertheless, it’s incumbent upon leaders 1) to immunize themselves to these subliminal influences through awareness to their existence and 2) to work relentlessly on the development of healthy, positive self-perceptions among their teams. While we can easily see the effort as complex and multi-faceted, it’s those characteristics that give us reason to be optimistic: there are many ways to accomplish this to fit our styles.
And, compliments are the easiest way to begin.