Confidence Gets You a Leadership Gig, but Humility Lets You Keep It

RJ Morris Coaching, Culture, Leadership, RJ Morris

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately working on leadership evaluation and selection.  Specifically, we spent a bunch of time talking about how to make better talent decisions. In addition to looking at times we got it right, we also analyzed a lot of failures—what made Tom unable to perform at the level expected, and why did Sally self-destruct?

Two topics that came up regularly? Confidence and humility—and specifically, how the right balance matters a lot to leaders. I stumbled across this tidbit, buried in an article about politics, but there’s lots here to like.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor of business psychology (has) studied the link between confidence and leadership extensively. One key point…Confidence is a better predictor of who will become a leader than who will succeed as a leader. That’s partly because if you’re not that confident, you won’t put yourself in the running for a leadership position in the first place — whether by raising your hand for a promotion at work or by running for the highest office in the land.

But it also has to do with people’s assumptions about what a leader should look like. Chamorro-Premuzic said: “If you seem insecure, if you seem anxious, if you seem to have some self-doubt, then you won’t emerge as a leader because people will think that you are a liability.” … “We tend to think the main obstacle that people need to address is, ‘You have to believe in yourself,'” Chamorro-Premuzic said. “But actually that isn’t the case. What you really need to have is ability, the right level of skills, the right level of knowledge, the right capacity.”

He went on: “Once you are a leader it’s probably good to have the capacity to question yourself and a moderate degree of insecurity and self-criticism so that you don’t engage in too much risk-taking.” Once you’re a leader, competence matters more than confidence. Indeed, research suggests that humility, and even some amount of under-confidence, are linked to more effective leadership.

Key takeaways for me:

  • Confidence, big smile, drive for results helps others select you as a leader
  • Once in the gig, however, good leaders understand their fallibility and how it helps them

As we analyzed the successes and failures we had, we acknowledged that we always knew that over-confidence can be a career killer.  We recognized, however, that being overly humble can kill you, too.

Thanks for the promotion, Boss. Wow, I hardly think I deserve it. Man, well we will do our best. Whew, hope I have what it takes.  I’ll talk to the team and let them know how honored I am that you chose me, even though I know there are lots–lots–of other good people you could have chosen.  I’ll be a boss who seeks out lots–lots–of feedback from others.  

That’s no good either.  Just like ordering a side salad with your double bacon cheeseburger, it’s all about balance, people.