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The following article was written by Coleman Patterson and appeared in the Business section of the Abilene Reporter-News.

Have confidence in confidence, February 17, 2008, 2D.

“I don’t need the map, I know exactly where I am going.”   Those were the words that rang though my head as I left my house on the way to a conference in Dallas.  I had been to the conference location four times before and was certain of my route.  It was not until I actually saw the huge pile of dirt in the middle of the road about a mile from my destination that I realized my planned route to the conference had hit a dead end.  After getting back on I-20, taking another exit from the highway, and driving around in rush-hour traffic for more than an hour, I finally arrived at the conference—only ten minutes late.

My adventures in driving without direction in Dallas reminded me of my summer travel adventures in Europe.  I spent 17 days traveling with my family this past summer driving through Austria, Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Italy, and Slovenia.  On that trip, we took wrong roads, turned around, drove on pedestrian pathways, missed exits, drove through ice and snow, read signs incorrectly (in German, Italian, and Slovenian), and encountered many one-way streets that we had expected to be two-way.  Throughout our travels, however, we eventually reached every location to which we were heading.  Sometimes the trips were simple and sometimes they were quite complicated.  Toward the end of our European driving adventure, we were quite confident that we could overcome almost any obstacle thrown in our way.

As I drove around Dallas looking for familiar-sounding roads and scanning my memory for images of the correct layout of roads and geography, I found myself unusually calm and confident.  It occurred to me that if I could survive and succeed in my European driving mishaps, I could certainly reach my destination in Dallas. 

The psychological processes at play in my mind were what researcher Albert Bandura described as self-efficacy.  The confidence gained by succeeding in a task helps a person gain confidence when faced with similar tasks.  Success driving in Europe helped me feel more confident when driving without direction in Dallas. 

Many leadership development programs are built upon the ideas of creating self-efficacy in program participants.  The confidence gained from succeeding in leadership and teamwork exercises can help build confidence in participants that will benefit them in real life situations later.   While it is quite unlikely that leaders and managers will have to lead workers through high-ropes elements, creative problem-solving exercises and team-building tasks, or camp-type team competitions, they will have to lead others through tasks and situations that require problem solving, effective communication, conflict management, creativity, and teamwork.  Effective leadership development programs provide participants with opportunities to study and practice leadership and teamwork in controlled environments that can generalize to other situations.  The skills and competencies developed must mirror those of the workplace in order to build confidence and self-efficacy in program participants.  That confidence can help leaders from feeling lost when they confront new and unknown situations.

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2006, 2007, 2008  Coleman Patterson, All Rights Reserved