How can leaders find a balance between confidence and humility?
Humble confidence starts with a shift in perspective about how we determine our value.
Chen* is an up-and-coming VP for a large conservative organization based in the US. Her CEO is pushing the organization to leverage data analytics and technology better (Chen’s focus) to serve clients in more individualized and meaningful ways. He expects Chen to be a confident, outspoken and influential agent of change with her colleagues.
However, projecting confidence can be difficult for Chen. She has a reserved style and tends not to assert herself – especially when there is tension, when she’s with senior people or where she’s not the expert. She grew up in a culture outside the US where humility, silent deference to authority and politeness are more highly valued than in the US. To be effective in influencing her colleagues, she needs to demonstrate more confidence; specifically, she needs to be more assertive and needs to promote herself and her ideas more proactively and convincingly.
Roger* leads a sales function for a mid-size global healthcare company and has the opposite challenge as Chen. While Chen comes across as overly humble, Roger can come across as too confident and arrogant. People respect his business knowledge, his ability to sell and his hard-charging drive for results. But they want to see more humility from him in the form of better listening, empathy, respect, and commitment to others’ success.
Over-humility and over-confidence are ironically similar
Changing their behaviors will be important for Chen and Roger, and they will each take different action steps to increase their effectiveness. But their underlying beliefs and mindsets are even more important and will help drive more effective behaviors. Chen and Roger share a similar underlying perspective…
Like most of us, they tend to compare themselves with others to assess their value.
Overly humble people can tend to undervalue themselves and be overly deferential. Those that come across as overly confident or arrogant tend to base their confidence on a sense that they are better than others. Or they may over-compensate when they feel inferior or that their superiority is threatened. Each is focused too much on their standing (or lack of standing) compared to others.
To build humble confidence, Chen and Ralph need to remember that their ultimate value as people is significant – but no more or less than others. Shifting to this mindset is the start of Chen confidently asserting herself in the face of resistance from colleagues. Shifting his perspective is the start of Roger humbly and respectfully empathizing with others and their concerns and priorities.
Humble confidence avoids comparison
A balanced perspective about confidence and humility requires basing my value and self-worth on a more reliable measure than how I compare to others, how I perform, or whether others approve of me. A balanced perspective helps me strive to perform better because I’m valuable – not so that I can be valuable.
Humble confidence may seem like an oxymoron. But shifting our perspective about where we derive our value makes all the difference. It helps give humble people confidence and confident people humility.
*Chen’s and Roger’s names have been changed for this article.
Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps leaders and teams achieve extraordinary relationships and results. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.