September 8, 2015

Enhancing Leader Developmental Readiness By Harnessing Prior Success

Have you ever heard of an overweight woman that constantly shows efforts to lose weight but never seems to make progression toward the goal? Gym memberships, Jenny Craig enrollment, calorie tracker app but no weight loss or healthy progress. This phenomena of wanting to change, making efforts, and not progressing is common. It is a trend also found in organizations. Organizations desire to develop their leaders, they seek to continuously grow their leaders, they create programs and interventions, but see no developmental progress. Famous organizational psychologist, Bruce Avolio and Sean Hannah, propose that the gap between wanting to change and actually changing is an individual’s developmental readiness.

Developmental readiness captures an individual’s motivation and ability to develop. When a person has high motivation to develop (high confidence in developing, high interest and goals, and a learning goal orientation) and high ability to develop (self-awareness, self-identity, and meta-cognitive ability) they are able to cross that gap between wanting to change and making a change. There are a total of six states that make up developmental readiness: three for motivation and three for ability. One of these six states, confidence, will be discussed in this article. Increasing confidence can allow for the other five states to increase as a result and will provide overall resilience and optimism on the journey of development.

Confidence, or efficacy is the belief of being capable of a specific task, in this case the task is leader development. Research has shown there are four ways to increase confidence:

  1. Prior success
  2. Social persuasion
  3. Arousal
  4. Vicarious learning

Prior Success

Past performance in successfully developing a new skill can increase efficacy. For example, I have experienced past success in driving. I have never been in a wreck and never received a ticket. I have high confidence in my driving ability because of my past performance. However, in the past I have received great criticism on my reading and writing ability. My grade school teachers would mock and criticize my performance in front of my peers and in private. As a result my confidence in reading and writing has been low. This makes me less motivated to complete reading and writing tasks and I have a lower ability to see positive results. In 2013 researchers, Sitzmann and Yeo found that past performance has an extremely high effect on self-efficacy. But hope is not lost if past performances aren’t soaked in success! To increase confidence I look at my past in reading and writing and analyze the reason for failure that was in my control and out of my control. I did not read or write a lot as a child so that could be the cause of my past failure. Reading and writing is in my control and I can increase in those activities to ensure future success. My teachers being mean is another factor for my failure in reading and writing, which is not in my control. Understanding the reason for my past failure has allowed me to increase my confidence. I see that although I did not succeed in the past I can and will in the future.

List two prior performances that were successful and two prior performances that were failures. Try to determine your area of control over each experience. Some prior failures were only failures because of circumstances that were out of your control. Or perhaps they were failures because of something in your control that you can change in the future. Try to approach this exercise with honesty (telling yourself you did nothing wrong when you actually did have some control over the situation isn’t helpful to your development). At the end of this exercise, you should be a little bit better at identifying how much control you have over experiences as well as have confidence in your ability to improve in the future.

Social Persuasion

Receiving encouraging feedback from respected supervisors or peers can increase efficacy. As I continue to work on my reading and writing ability, I seek feedback from my classmates and professors. Their feedback although not always positive provides me with support and assurance that I will be a successful writer. Social persuasion happens often in informal ways. The causal comments we get from peers can persuade us to have more confidence in that area. For example, after I deliver presentations, my peers tell me how great I did and tell me how great I would be on TV. These comments are causal but impactful and increase my confidence in speaking in front of others.

Try reaching out to your supervisor, subordinates, and colleagues to solicit feedback on a recent project. Let the comments sink into your consciousness and start to self-identify all the times you use the strengths that your peers identified.


Arousal is the factor that contributes least to self-efficacy. Arousal can be in form of heartbeats or sweaty palms. These physiological feedbacks aids in our beliefs about that task.

Try to notice times throughout the day and in specific situations where you experience physical changes in your body. Changes in mood or heart rate are good indicators to note. Continue this activity for a week and you’ll start to have a clearer picture of the activities that give you energy and activities that drain you.

Vicarious Learning

Vicarious learning is learning through observing others’ behaviors and consequences. Before students are able to drive on the road they might watch videos of bad and good driving to increase their awareness and confidence in that task. Vicarious learning can be obtained through viewing a role model. We view the actions and consequences of that person to gain understanding. If you want to be a famous singer, we might look to the behaviors and habits of Beyonce or Taylor Swift.

Take a week to think of leaders that you have seen get promotions or show great growth. Once you have identified a few, ask them if they will be willing to engage in an informational interview and start to look at how they develop as leaders.

We have the ability to increase our confidence. When we have high confidence, we are one-step closer to reaching our goals and dreams. To increase our confidence we use prior success, social persuasion, arousal, and vicarious learning. To become increasingly aware of these factors in your life, start writing a story of your life. Crave 30 minutes in your day to reflect on prominent events in the past. You will be able to see patterns and highlight why you are confident in one aware and lack confidence in another.

Amber Kea-Edwards is a doctoral student at Claremont Graduate University with a concentration in leader development. She is passionate about adult development and motivation. She is currently a leader at the LeAD labs assessment center and a research intern for LeAD labs research team. In the future, she hopes to make leader development literature applicable to all people.