High-Trust Leaders: Confident, not arrogant

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If the Blue Angels walked into the room, you would notice something expected and unexpected.

As expected, they are very confident, with a genuine belief in their own skills and abilities. Not because they are natural-born pilots, but rather through dedicated effort and perfect practice, they know they can perform at a very high level day-in and day-out. If confronted with an unexpected event in the air, they can prioritize (e.g., 1. aviate,  2. navigate, then 3. communicate) and solve the problem. They aren’t afraid to challenge themselves. They know they won’t get it right the first 2, 3, 4, or even 10 times. But they prepare before each attempt and seek rigorous, specific feedback to drive improvement. Like a sailboat setting a new course, they make smaller and smaller adjustments as they refine their performance in a new and different way.

Here’s what many people find unexpected when they meet the Blue Angels: they are humble. Not in an aw-shucks, weak-kneed way, but in a curious, engaged, interested, selfless manner. They won’t hesitate to ask a question, seek advice, or inquire about a better way. They are more concerned with learning and improvement than they care about someone else developing a perception that they don’t fit an image of perfection. They are totally unafraid to admit what they don’t know.  They acknowledge their weaknesses.  They don’t claim to be perfect and are transparent with their own flaws while trying to improve them.

It’s their confidence combined with genuine self-awareness of areas for improvement that makes them so appealing.

Arrogance, on the other hand, is confidence gone too far.  It’s an offensive display of superiority of self-importance. This is the boss who thinks he is smarter than everyone else and doesn’t think he has anything left to learn or a need to listen.  It’s the colleague who cares only about her own rating and views the world as a zero-sum game. It’s the consultant who continually interrupts the client to show how much he knows. It’s the insecure COO who hordes information in effort to protect his position, preclude dissent, and appear indispensable (“If you knew what I know…”).

In his book, Good to Great, Jim Collins identifies the essential ingredient for taking a company to greatness is having a “Level 5” leader, an executive in whom extreme personal humility blends paradoxically with intense professional will and the tendency to give credit to others while assigning blame to themselves.

Be a High-Trust Leader:

  • Be confident of your knowledge, skills, abilities, and proud of what you have achieved.
  • Believe in yourself enough to take on challenges and go after new objectives and goals.
  • Fan your curiosity and interest in the knowledge, experience, and wisdom of others.
  • Acknowledge what you don’t know and aren’t good at, and don’t be shy in asking for help.

People don’t expect their leaders to be perfect. They want them to be confident and humble.

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