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Home » Blog » Confident Humility: Does it help in Successful Leadership?

Confident Humility: Does it help in Successful Leadership?

According to dictionaries, humility is defined as “having a low opinion of one’s own importance or rank; meekness.”

Nonetheless, it defines a leader as “someone who governs, guides, or inspires others; head.”

How are these two to be equated?

Confident people are aware of what they know and what they do not know. They speak boldly and plainly because they speak from experience and knowledge.

Humble people acknowledge their ignorance and accept responsibility for their own errors. They seek to understand others, pose questions in order to gain knowledge from others, and pay close attention to the responses to those questions.

Confident humility embodies both of these attitudes. It steers clear of the polar opposites of arrogance or unrelenting confidence and unbridled humility.

We are drawn to genuine, deeply felt confidence—the kind that inspires us to follow great leaders to the ends of the earth.

However, one shade darker and we come across arrogance.

Where is the dividing line between the two? It appears to be a matter of humility. True confidence can withstand a great deal, but the most important thing it can do is step back and make room for the thoughts and ideas of others.

The paradoxical duality of these two characteristics is so uncommon that they rank at the very top of author Jim Collins’ leadership pyramid, at Level 5.

Level 5 leadership, characterised by what Collins refers to as “professional will and personal humility,” is what transforms good companies into great ones—those that have progressed from “good” to “great.” It boils down to the notion that meekness as a component of humility must be abandoned.

You can be humble in the sense that your attention is directed toward others, toward the organisation.

Additionally, you can be discreet, understated, or even avoid attention.

However, when it comes to the organization’s interests, you cannot be meek. You must exercise assertiveness.

Stuart Taylor coined the term “Assertive Humility” to describe this trait, which he defines as “courageous value-based behaviour for the greater good.”

Are Humble Leaders Better Leaders? – Research Study

There are numerous examples of leaders who lack humility but have quickly ascended to the top of organisations. Indeed, success is frequently associated with ego, and many leaders discuss the pressure to appear competent and flawless, while humility may be interpreted as indecisiveness, lack of confidence, or weakness.

So, do humble leaders make more effective leaders? Do their teams have better outcomes?

These are the issues which were addressed in a field study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology. It was predicted that some teams would benefit more from leader humility than others, and that whether or not leader humility results in positive outcomes for a team would depend on team members’ expectations for how the leader should behave. It was specifically proposed that power distance — the degree to which people accept and legitimise, unequal power distribution in a team — would affect whether members expected a leader to be humble. When members’ power distance is high, they expect leaders to take the initiative and provide strong direction. But when power distance is low, members would expect more humility.

(Research by HBR)

How to Demonstrate Confident Humility

“Do you know how you can tell when someone is truly humble? I believe there’s one simple test: because they consistently observe and listen, the humble improve.” -Wynton Marsalis

Here’s what it looks like for a leader to demonstrate confident humility:

  • Recognize your knowledge gaps and work to close them
  • Solicit input and ideas from others.
  • When others are the experts, defer to them.
  • When you are the expert, speak up
  • Once you’ve gathered sufficient information, take a calculated risk and pull the trigger.
  • Take no credit for the successes of others.

It’s frightening to admit ignorance to everyone, but doing so establishes a culture of candour, vulnerability, and collaboration. To succeed, we would need to work as a team.

You will learn through this experience that if you respect your team’s knowledge and abilities, they will respect yours as well. There is no reason to fabricate anything.

Confident humility is the humility to recognise when you are not the best person to make a decision. It entails absorbing knowledge from others when they are the experts and acting boldly when you are the expert.