Humility and Confidence

Humility and Confidence are two words that have been rolling around in my head lately. In this post I am going to let these two play out here and see what I end up with; I have no idea where this is going.

This was inspired by my closing comment in my previous post – that I still have so much to learn. This was not meant to be a statement of self judgment but one of humility; especially as it pertains to leadership. The day that I believe that this statement is less true is the day that my ego is in control and I will be a less effective leader. Not to be confused with confidence. Confidence is knowing that things are going to be OK. Unfortunately confidence is mistaken by many as something more than just know that things are going to work out and it is used to boost/elevate the Self.

Confidence is experiential – Humility is constant. Confidence that is not based on experience is not solid and will not be trusted. The people around you will know this and their tentativeness will be palpable; that is if you are paying attention. But someone in this state will not be paying close enough attention; rather this person will be expending a lot of energy trying to show or justify the position that they will miss signals. The way to combat this is by being honest with people when you are not confident. That is not to say that you freak out and run out the room screaming. But rather you turn to people and say something to the extent – “I have never encountered something like this before – what would you do?” In other words show some humility.

This is where it gets tricky. First off, being a good leader means that you are doing this quite a bit already. You should be allowing people to contribute by being part of the decision making process and then empowering them to act. Good leaders do not do everything themselves. Every time I get to this point in my thinking of remember one of the tenants from “What Got You Here…” – Don’t add too much value. Secondly, statements like this need to couched in some sort of decision making “process” (I am using the work process lightly). Be very clear in your own thinking that statements like this can lead to a sense of anarchy or distributed decision making; this is not about abdicating or stealing the decision making process. Someone still needs to own the decision or you can end up on an endless discussion or debate. Also you need be very clear when the decision has been made; believe it or not this can be hard. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen a decision made and people don’t realize it and bad things happen from there (maybe something to address a subsequent post).

So back to our my statement and the key aspect of it that shows humility is the prefix – that you are being humble by acknowledging you don’t “know” the answer. But you are not faking that you do. Take the same statement without the prefix – “What would you do?” Depending upon the person this statement can be taken a bunch of ways. Every day I deal with people in different states and to a “paranoid” lonely statement could mean something different than it does to someone who is “competitive”. I believe that peoples states mostly boil down to trust – trust in me and trust in themselves (how are they different ). When I exhibit humility it helps reinforce trust. Is there a guarantee? Nope. Some people have some core trust issues and this is a drop in the ocean to helping that. But hey, before there where oceans there had to be that first drop.

Humility goes so much further than what I have mentioned here. In fact I believe that humility instills confidence. Have you ever been around a humble person and felt a difference? Are you more relaxed? I believe so. I believe that I am more likely to value humility in a leader than just pure confidence. I have worked with some way smarter people over the years and nothing was more of a turnoff than confidence with no humility. When working with someone like this I did not feel that there was anything in it for me; they just “knew” what the right thing to do was and made the call. Often times they were right or close; but how invested was I in that decision? How likely would I be to work hard to see it through the challenges? How much did I learn from the experience?

See the difference?

Lastly, humility has another aspect worth mentioning. I find that there is another aspect of humility that characterizes good leaders – they give a lot of credit to those around them. They take (or assign) responsibility and ownership for the decision but give clear credit to those who contributed to the decision. This is easy to recognize and gets my attention very quickly; regardless of whether I am the person being acknowledged or now.

So how good am I at this? I can certainly do better. I know that

PS. I feel like there are aspects to these two words that I want to address in the future that I in some way touched on above; but will wait for a future post to explore.

  • Confidence is situational – Humility is not.
  • Confidence is shakable – Humility is solid.
  • Something about Humility being timeless.
  • Attributes of healthy confidence vs less healthy?

What a year!

Was just reviewing my last post (which began similarly) and it ended with reference to changes in leadership in my department. Those changes continued to snowball and culminated with me landing a new position on the leadership team. The last year has consisted of me figuring out what this new job is and how I can do it. I just finished my self appraisal so it can say that it has been a difficult year. The transition has not been easy for me or my extended team. We changed many things in the organization this year and it has had some significant impacts. Every day I get up and keep my eye on the big vision of what we are trying to do and figure out how to make course corrections to get us there. Unfortunately it feels like I am using a spoon to do it sometimes. Yes, I am the one picking up the spoon thinking it will help and realizing that it is just the wrong “tool”. Rookie mistakes abound. Last week I was reading an article from the Harvard Biz Review called “Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?” and it was pretty intimidating. Geez, I have a lot to learn.

For what it’s worth here are some new books “on the shelf”…
1. What Got You Here Won’t Get You There
2. The Leadership Moment
3. Crucial Conversations
4. True North
5. The Zen of Listening
6. Nice Teams Finish Last
7. The World Is Flat