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Is Humble Confidence an Oxymoron?

Alan Andersen

I cringed the other day, when yet another friend told yet another story of an egotistical boss. I was relieved for her because she had been recruited away, leaving him alone with his arrogant attitude and inflated speeches. I actually feel sorry for the guy. He is blinded to how his behavior is ruining the culture of his business. In his mind, it’s always someone else’s fault and fires at will. Makes me sad.

In contrast, isn’t it refreshing when you see an organization and its leadership truly investing in their people? Whose leader truly wants to lead and care for his or her employees? If you find that person, you will find the makings of a unique company culture … one with little to no turnover, profit on the bottom line, and real joy in the workplace!

Focused and Flexible

Recently, I worked with a start-up company to discover their core purpose and values. One of the values that made it to the top was the descriptive combo of words, “Humble Leadership.” Together those words sizzle with meaning. They also seem like an oxymoron.

Confidence is a strong word. Yet it is rooted in words like belief, trust, faith, reliance. It means that you have a strong belief that you (and others) will behave, act, respond in a way that is right, effective, and certain. That doesn’t sound humble, right?

Yet, the most refreshing leaders to be around are ones that embody humble confidence. I bet you can think of one now. Someone you respected and wanted to follow. They listened to you and sought your input as part of the team, yet had a strong sense of where they were going. You felt your opinion not only matter, it helped in a meaningful way to fulfill the organization’s mission. I often describe this trait in action as “Focused and Flexible.”

Pain and Inadequacy

What’s the opposite of humble confidence? I believe it is shame-based leadership. In my experience, most leaders wrestle with the normal nagging thoughts, “Do I have what it takes?” or “Will I be found out one day?” I write about that in my book, Clarity.

An epiphany came when I was studying for a talk on shame and looked it up on my iPhone, of all places. Apple succinctly defines shame as “A painful emotion resulting from an awareness of inadequacy or guilt.” Here’s the thing: When the questions above are not answered with humble confidence, then the leader (usually an entrepreneur) sets out to silence that voice by “proving” him or herself, leading to behavior that brings shame.

If you want to know if you suffer from shame, then sit down and make a list of the areas you have pain in because of a sense of inadequacy, or any area where you feel guilt. I know it can be a painful process. But it’s the first step to facing the truth to move toward the relief of humble confidence.

One other note: Do not isolate yourself in this process! Bring it to your community, whether that’s your coach, EO/YPO forum, trusted peers, or so on.

Personal Humility, Professional Will

Of course, all of this certainly isn’t a new concept. In fact, I remember when Jim Collins’s classic book Good to Great came out, I devoured it. I focused especially on the secret sauce of a Level 5 leader. These people “blend extreme personal humility with intense professional will.”

Let’s review Collins’s five attributes that epitomize the Level 5 Leader:

1. They are self-confident enough to set up their successors for success.

2. They are humble and modest.

3. They have “unwavering resolve.”

4. They display a “workmanlike diligence — more plow horse than show horse.”

5. They give credit to others for their success and take full responsibility for poor results.

I have to be real right now. I know very few people who truly desire to lead as Level 5 leaders. Many CEOs don’t have the needed patience, self-discipline and heart to lead with humility and confidence. Having said that, I am fully confident that with training and desire, it is more than possible for future Level 5 leaders to get to the top level if they invest in others around them. As an executive coach, I get to see change every day in people who truly want to make a difference in this world.

How about you? Are you leader who has resolve, displays diligence, gives credit and takes responsibility. Or are you one whose eye is on personal gain? The key is having an accurate view of yourself. Coaching can help with this, but whether or not you get assistance, realize you need a team to get you to the next level.

Then you are a part of an elite group who truly want to lead.

Be humble, be confident, be the best you can be today!

Your Coach,

This article originally appeared at True Life Coaching

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