Effective Leadership: Confident or Certain?
A young friend recently told me about going to an art museum while he was in college and seeing what he thought was a silly exhibit of two dinner plates on a table, one with an apple on it. He couldn’t stifle his sense of humor so returned the next day with two friends who provided cover while he placed a water glass that he had brought from home into the exhibit. Pretty funny, but the best part is that he returned several days later and found a docent describing to other visitors with certainty how the water glass was significant to the piece.
Revisionist history of our success or failure is perhaps a psychological necessity for healthy self-esteem. But believing your own version of events can also cause you to make foolish decisions as a business leader. Being born on third base and thinking you hit a triple doesn’t make you a great baseball player.
There is a difference between being confident and being certain. A confident leader knows that he is fallible but realizes that he has to make decisions with imperfect knowledge. A leader who is certain has that plus more and the more is not good. He will ignore the information that the marketplace, his team or his advisors put in front of him because he is certain that there is only one way, his way.
Like the line between ethical and unethical, or right and wrong, the line between confident and certain is wavy. New ideas, for instance, will always meet resistance. If you work through the resistance are you confident or certain?
I see lack of confidence account for more problems in leaders than absolute certainty, but both can cause problems. The leader with a lack of confidence cannot make tough decisions and is afraid of failure. The certain leader is also afraid of failure, but when he does fail will not own it. He’ll blame someone or something in the environment.
I don’t know if the optimal level of confidence is 6.7 or a 9.2 but there is a range that is more effective than higher or lower. Confidence plus inquisitiveness, open-mindedness and humility is perhaps the best I can do as a description.
You have to be open to the fact that the water glass is not supposed to be there.