Self-confidence can be a friend and foe to emerging leaders and seasoned executives alike. In many cases, leaders must think and act against popular wisdom, and thus must exhibit confidence and grit in the face of severe—and even very public—opposition. Of course, self-confidence can also lead one down a very dark path of narcissism, nepotism and grandiosity if untempered, much less uncontrolled. As Herbert Joly, CEO of Best Buy told us, arrogance is the foe of self-confidence, not its equal. A healthy ego comprised of a sense of self-competence and self-esteem is important, but it is invariably dangerous if it lacks a corresponding sense of introspection.
Ego is a natural, necessary and constructive part of leadership, but it must be balanced with humility and realism to be focused on bringing positive impacts. In our world of workplace psychology, we call this collective and balanced concept of ego “self-efficacy.” This is a term for a combination of interrelated constructs that include drive, motivation, emotional intelligence, personal control and accountability. Fortunately, it can be fostered via three simple tactics:
- Reflection before action: The human brain is hardwired with a bias to act impulsively and reactively in favor of self-interests in a given moment. But leadership requires challenging personal assumptions and thinking beyond oneself and the moment to enact decisions that align to a defined strategic outcome—or greater good. One of the easiest and most effective ways to combat internal biases for self-gain is to ask oneself this simple question before taking important business actions: “How will this decision affect my team and the broader business?”
- Outside wisdom compensates blind-spots: Successful leaders know the benefits of a “personal board of advisors” when facing challenging issues. These are informal groups that are carefully selected to be (a) small in nature (three to seven members); (b) composed of individuals with markedly diverse skill sets; and (c) independent from a leader’s organization to guard against group-think and internal politics. This impartiality enables leaders to gain completely candid, honest and balanced feedback that transcends the inherent biases, limited life experience and specific skill sets of individual leaders.
- Give daily gratitude: Leadership is a process of symbiotic success, i.e., leaders focus on making others successful in their roles and careers, and in turn, motivated teams work diligently to bring a shared strategic vision to life and make their leaders look good. Acknowledging this symbiosis via genuine recognition (public and private “thank-you’s” to individuals and teams) reinforced with occasional celebrations of successful teamwork and meeting tangible targets go a long way in gaining others’ currency in the form of their engagement, loyalty and accountability.
Contrary to the stereotypical image of the big-ego CEO portrayed in the media, the best leaders simultaneously exhibit a marked degree of achievement-orientation on one hand, and empathy and humility on the other. Self-confidence is a foe when it serves only you; it is a friend when it fuels service to others.
Keith Kefgen and James Houran are the CEO and managing director of Aethos Consulting Group, a hospitality-focused human capital advisory. Kefgen can be contacted at [email protected] and Houran can be reached at [email protected].