Confidence vs. hubris
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Confidence vs. hubris

One of the hallmarks of great leaders is their confidence. But there’s a difference between confidence and overconfident arrogance — which the Greek gods considered “hubris” and punished by inevitable retribution.

Obviously you don’t want Zeus or Hera to send inexorable fate your way!

Nor, to take a more mundane perspective, do you want the people you lead to think of you as a conceited, overbearing jerk. That’s a good way to wreck your team or department’s effectiveness, and your reputation.

The warning signs
So, is it just possible that your confidence is morphing into something less desirable? Here are five questions a confident leader might ask him- or herself to detect the warning signs of approaching hubris:

1) Do I make most or all of my decisions independently? You may be the smartest person in the room, but you aren’t the only one with ideas. Failing to seek others’ input is a sign of dangerous overconfidence.

2) Do I always lunch/socialize with the same people? Rubbing elbows only with selected peers or subordinates cuts you off from alternative and possibly valuable points of view, and does nothing to deflate a swelling head.

3) Does my team always agree with me? If the answer is “yes,” you have a big problem. You’ve created — inadvertently — a culture that validates the false idea that you’re always right. Nobody is always right.

4) Do I typically ask “Who’s responsible?” when something goes wrong? The question implies that it can’t possibly be your fault. But it can.

5) When was the last time I spoke with a customer? If you haven’t done so pretty recently, it’s a good sign you’re relying too much on your own judgment and not enough on the judgment of the people who matter most — those who buy what you sell.

If you answered “yes” to any of the first four questions, or “a while” to the fifth, maybe you need a humility double-check. Ask another manager whose opinion you value — or your boss — to tell you frankly whether you’re overdoing it in the confidence department. And listen to what they say.

Source: Adapted from “The Leader’s Pocket Guide,” by John Baldoni.

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