Walking the Tightrope Between Confidence and Hubris

I admit to having an affinity for the “awe shucks” people in the world. I’ve met combat veterans who are not fond of attention and will tell you that they were just “doing their job”­­—of getting shot at to protect you and me! My father-in-law was of this variety (and as a WWII vet, the “greatest generation”). Only those who knew him well understood his backbone, perseverance, bravery and talent. Conversely I’ve met blowhards who are far more hot air and hubris than talent.—Donald Trump comes to mind. As a leader, where should you fall on this continuum?

I like to spend time exploring the conundrums of leadership and one of them is the trick of being (and showing) confidence while avoiding hubris.

Somewhere in between the poles of low self-esteem and delusions of grandeur is the sweet spot required as a leader. You and I have both seen many folks on the polar ends and they are not capable of leadership success, at least over the long run. The middle third of this scale is where I have observed the most effective leaders.

My son-in-law who is a talented psychotherapist asked me one day if a bit of narcissism was necessary for success as a CEO. I don’t think so. It may sometimes correlate to success, but is not necessary and in fact in anything larger than a “cup full,” it will reduce their chance for success.

Most of my clients have been more on the awe shucks side of this equation and I have had several who needed to learn how to accept winning and toot their own horn a bit in order to succeed. Showing confidence, in yourself, your decisions (though they will not all be correct) and your team is a valuable and even necessary trait for a leader. It’s O.K. to question yourself and natural to have some self-doubt, but if you don’t believe that you are capable of success and worthy of your accomplishments, you’re running on borrowed time.

The other side of the equation—breathing your own exhaust—requires a more painful fix. In my experience only a public failure or allowing yourself to be open to feedback from a truth teller will produce the opportunity for change. That doesn’t mean it will happen, just that there is hope…

People want to follow confident leaders. People want to see those with hubris get kicked in the behind. Who are you going to be?

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