The Confidence of a Humble Leader

Not “The Arrogant or the Wimpy Leader”

Is it possible to be confident and humble at the same time? If you equate confidence with arrogance and humility with uncertainty then you would probably say, “no”.

What is Confidence?

Humble confident manOne of Webster’s definitions of confidence is, “faith or belief that one will act in a right, proper, or effective way” [1]. That describes the kind of confidence we want to have in our leaders and want others to have in us as leaders. If we take another of Webster’s definitions, “a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers or of reliance on one’s circumstances” [1], that sounds like self-confidence that could be good or bad depending on how we use it.

Let me suggest a tweak to that second definition that I believe better describes the self-confidence of a healthy leader: “a feeling or consciousness of our team’s powers or of reliance on our team’s ability to navigate the circumstances”.

The difference is in what we place our confidence in: our self or the team we’re leading. That doesn’t mean we lack self-confidence. It just means that as a humble leader we recognize we don’t succeed or fail on our own. We’re dependent on others and we recognize and value our interdependence rather than thinking it’s a liability.

So a confident leader projects positivity about their potential success as a group and is committed to their personal role within that group.

What is Humility?

Back to Webster’s, humble means, “not proud or haughty : not arrogant or assertive” [2]. That doesn’t contradict confidence, but it suggests a warning about how we come across when confidence is worn without humility. Confidence loses its inspirational potential when carried in haughty arrogance.

One more trip to Webster’s for a second definition of humble: “reflecting, expressing, or offered in a spirit of deference or submission” [2]. This touches on how a humble leader carries their confidence. Not holding their confidence out to place themselves over the team, but expressing belief in the team, to encourage the team, for the good of the team.

Blending the Two

Healthy confidence and humility are both based in truth. Humility is not self-debasing to bring ourselves down or artificially lift others up. Confidence is not thinking we don’t have any weaknesses or ignoring past mistakes or future risks.

Without both confidence and humility it’s hard (impossible?) to engage in the kind of shared vulnerability that generates trust, strengthens teams, and feeds success.

Followers need to have confidence in their leaders. But they’re energized by recognizing that they are part of the reason their leaders are confident.

Bring confidence and humility together and you have a formula that inspires teams to achieve what none of us can do on our own.

[2] © 2023 enLumen Leadership Services

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