In the imagination of many people, leaders must always be in control, always act according to plan and maintain control over every situation. Dealing with your own fears and those of others is traditionally not part of this picture. A mistake, finds Meike Finkelnburg. She believes that embracing self-efficacy and confronting her fears has made her a better leader and entrepreneur.

Anyone who deals with leadership styles enters a topic that quickly moves from stick to stick. The selection ranges from the classic leadership styles of Kurt Lewin and the ideal-typical ones of Max Weber to Horst-Joachim Rahn’s group-oriented leadership styles and the direction-oriented leadership style of Robert R. Blake and Jane Mouton. There seems to be something for everyone – it is just a matter of picking out the right style for the respective employee. Or?

Especially during the pandemic, many companies had to realize that the management styles used so far are no longer up to date. As soon as employees are no longer in the office – and thus not under the direct control of their superiors – managers have to do something that scares many of them: trust.

Meike Finkelnburg is Managing Partner of the brand retail agency Designplus. In 2021, Meike Finkelnburg founded “hi, tilda”. “hi, tilda” is a consulting company for community experience and culture and develops strategies that create sustainable added value for companies and their communities.

No wonder the gap between what employees want after the pandemic and what employers would like is wide. For example, while some would still like to have their home office, others would like to have everyone dry again, or rather in the office. Of course, this discrepancy causes resentment on both sides and is difficult to resolve if neither party wants to make the first move. It is precisely in such situations that I see great opportunities for managers to deal with the topic of self-efficacy and thus better respond to their own needs and those of their employees. And vice versa.

Just ten years ago I would have given the bird the fuck to anyone who told me that I would become a founder and shareholder of a company myself. Instead, I always associated independence and corporate management with a feeling of pressure, being overwhelmed and isolated. It was also around this time that I first came across Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy. The core of his theory is that people who have a high level of confidence in their possibilities and skills master challenges more easily than those with low levels of confidence in their abilities. This trust, in turn, is based on the response people get from those around them.

The lack of such a resonance triggers different editorial styles in people, which are sometimes difficult to understand at first glance. In essence, however, it is always about the fact that the person concerned feels threatened by the lack of resonance. As a rule, people perceive a threat to one or more of their basic motives, such as their own safety, belonging to a group or freedom of choice. For the brain it makes no difference whether a person is being chased by a big cat or is being rebuked by superiors in a meeting in front of everyone else – the existential fear is the same. As a result, it can quickly happen that apparently trivial things are often reacted to more violently than is factually appropriate. Not ideal behavior, especially in management positions.

Dealing with your own self-efficacy ensures that you recognize the fears underlying your own behavior – and helps you to be able to work on them. At the same time, it is also easier to recognize the needs of other people who act the way they do, and to respond to these needs and fears accordingly. The realization that I myself – just like other people – develop fears due to a lack of resonance with one of my basic motives helped me to deal better with stress and conflicts. For me, self-efficacy is the conscious reflection and perception of my work and, in the second step, above all in relation to my counterpart. From the inside to the outside.

The ability to disregard my own motives and consciously give space to the basic motives of my counterpart helps me to support people and to find solutions. Since I am a very dynamic and impulsive person myself, I have also learned through self-efficacy to endure situations and to let others do it first without jumping right into it. In conflict situations, it often helps me to assess the situation from a distance – were my basic motives in distress or those of the others? Was it still about the thing or about an individual problem? How is the relationship level? For me, this is also part of an essential attitude of authentic and courageous managers and integrity.

Eight years ago I started to transform the agency into a self-effective organization. To this day, this is an ongoing process that requires a great deal of reliability and stability, but also flexibility and openness.

All of our employees, from managers to our interns, receive regular coaching. We have formed working groups in which the agency is designed together in order to remain sustainable, and there are open strategy workshops and clear guidelines that have emerged in our teams. At the same time, we conduct regular self-assessment and external assessment rounds in order to be able to live an open and critical feedback culture.

I am firmly convinced that a self-effective organization leads to more innovation and implementation power, because there is no fear of contributing ideas or saying what you think, even if it is uncomfortable at times. This makes the exchange among each other easier, more appreciative and more diverse.

However, this type of leadership can only work if we trust our counterpart that this person treats us openly and appreciatively, regardless of position or age. Self-efficacy leadership begins when managers explore their own basic motives and understand what needs drive their employees. This is the only way they can give their counterpart the right response – even if it is only the trust that the person in the home office does a job just as well as in the office.

The Mission Female business network, founded by Frederike Probert, is actively committed to more female power in business, society, media, culture, sports and politics. It unites successful women across all industries with the aim of making further professional progress together.