Humility vs. Confidence: Which Wins in 2022 and Beyond?


Written by Rob Brodo, from our partner Advantexe (Dec. 10, 2021)

It was one of the most fascinating learning moments of the year. And this year has been like no other in terms of incredible learning moments.

Immediately after one of the top-performing teams in the week-long, multi-year digital business simulation experience finished sharing their update to their Board of Directors, one board member turned the other board member and said, “Wait, did that company just go bankrupt? I thought they were doing so well.”

They were doing well. In fact, they had the highest revenues, the highest profits, and the highest stock price out of any of the other teams in the market. As part of the Board of Directors simulation debriefing, several of the board members (experienced executives who sit on “real” board in their “real” lives) gave the teams feedback. One shared, “When you have a great quarter and things are going in the right direction, you celebrate. You let the world know about your accomplishments.” Interestingly enough, that feedback didn’t seem to hit the mark. It was actually the opposite. The participant responded, “That’s not our style. We have been raised to be humble and not to brag. What you saw was what we were comfortable with.”

That comment then opened up a vigorous debate that got a lot of interesting dialogue going. There were some who were on Team Confident and some who were on Team Humble.

The Right Balance

During my career, I have had the chance to work with thousands of executive and senior-level leaders. I have viewed every interaction with them as part of my ongoing classroom experience. Based on what I have observed and experienced, I believe that leadership is a delicate balance between absolute self-confidence and authentic humility.

That balance encompasses understanding the significant value that you, as a leader and contributor, have in any position within an organization. It is the realization and self-awareness that your perspectives are important and that others will follow your direction, or make their own decisions based on how you have developed the team. You believe that it is appropriate to challenge your teams in a respectful way with a drive to always do the right thing, rather than trying to always prove you are right or better than others.

Being self-confident means recognizing you aren’t the fastest, smartest, or best communicator in the room. It’s the ability to be comfortable with who you are and who you see in the mirror.

This time of self-confidence driven by self-awareness is not political or self-serving. It is driven by a desire to be a great leader who wants to make a difference.

Balanced with this self-confidence is authentic humility. Humble leaders are trustworthy and authentic. They understand that they are not more important or better than anyone else. These types of leaders never forget where they came from, or take themselves too seriously. They foster teamwork and recognize others for their accomplishments.

Five Rules of Balance Between Confidence and Humility

Know the strategy – When you know that strategy and plan, it’s easy to find the balance between confidence and humility. Great leaders understand their own company’s business strategy and have the skills to execute and the humility to lead others to support the execution.

Set clear direction – Executing the strategy is only accomplished by leading others. If leadership is equal to the execution of your strategy through people, then you need to set the right goals with the confidence that they will be accomplished and with the humility to lead people to accomplish them.

Values – Values are the glue that keeps the execution of the strategy together. Different people will have different perspectives and values and you must have that right balance to confidently create and support them and the humility to live them every day.

Communicate – As with most things leadership, communicating is an essential element to getting things done. In our new normal of hybrid and remote work, the challenge of communicating has never been greater. And so has the capability and skill set to find the right balance of communicating with confidence and humility.

Embrace change – The pandemic has taught us many things including that even a nightmare scenario from science fiction books can come true. We are now forever in change mode. Leaders will only survive if they have the skills to embrace the chance and the leadership capabilities to lead change with confidence and humility.

In summary, the key learnings from earlier today and the debate of confidence versus humility were short-sighted. This is clearly not a case of either-or; it is a classic case of both and if you really think about it, confidence plus humility is what leadership in 2022 and beyond is going to be about.

About The Author

Robert Brodo is co-founder of Advantexe. He has more than 20 years of training and business simulation experience.