Walking the Line Between Confidence and Humility

Leadership Coaching
03/28/22 - Cait Swamy

In coaching leaders to evolve as Servant Leaders, how to be humble is often at the forefront of the conversation. How do we develop as confident and humble Servant Leaders? While some see humility as a strength, many view it as a weakness. We stereotype the humble leader as submissive and unassertive. On the other hand, a confident leader is someone who is self-assured and powerful. Confidence is nearly always measured as a positive leadership trait. In order to be a Servant Leader, we have to walk the line between confidence and humility, which presents a conundrum. How do we step into confidence and yet remain humble enough to serve? How do we stay humble and remain confident in who we are, our unique gifts, and what we offer? 

Walking the Line Between Confidence and Humility

In my past life, I led Global Talent Programs for a Fortune 50 company where I was in charge of recruiting top talent into early career rotational programs. I often had to have coaching conversations with program participants on how to be humble. They were all self-assured and overly confident, but they were also driven, well-spoken, and highly intelligent. They had reasons to be confident. At the same time, there is a fine line when self assurance and confidence can be perceived as arrogance. This experience showed me that humility can be taught. 

On the other hand, I’ve coached senior executive leaders who have told me that they don’t want to be too self-assured and that they often feel like impostors in their jobs. They lack self-confidence. They make themselves small to avoid standing out. While humility is a strength, if we aren’t simultaneously building confidence, how on earth can we expect to be able to lead? These experiences have taught me that confidence is a muscle that can be strengthened (or weakened) overtime.

Many leaders struggle to stay humble without sacrificing their confidence. To help you think about how to do both, I’ve outlined some key strategies on how to navigate this difficult conundrum. These tips and tricks will help you walk the line between confidence and humility as a Servant Leader. 

Always Be Open to Feedback

Humility requires us to understand who we are and how we are perceived. Humble leaders are open to feedback. They welcome the opinions of others. Being open is the key. When we are open to receiving feedback, we can listen to it and choose which parts to keep and which parts to leave. Humble and confident leaders never stop learning, they are always open to being coached. They celebrate their strengths while simultaneously being aware of their weaknesses and opportunities. 

Practice Gratitude. 

Humility and confidence go hand in hand with gratitude. Humble and confident leaders recognize that they are insignificant in comparison to the world at large. Humility is rooted in the desire to serve others. Servant Leadership is about wanting to give back and strive to contribute to the greater good. Humble and confident leaders find ways to be thankful so they can make the world a better place through their leadership. 

Admit There’s More to Learn. 

Humility means accepting you don’t have all the answers. If you believe you’re an expert and that there’s no more room to learn, you are lacking humility. Humility requires us to recognize that we are constantly learning and that we can always improve. Through learning, we build confidence. 

Take Ownership of Your Mistakes. 

There’s no better way to demonstrate humility than by taking ownership of your mistakes. There’s often a fear that people will be angry, dislike you or be frustrated. The truth is that no one is perfect. People appreciate a leader who is willing to admit that they aren’t perfect. Taking ownership means accountability. It’s owning up to mistakes and using them as a learning opportunity to improve yourself, the situation and the team you lead. 

Don’t Be Afraid of Failure. 

Walking the line between confidence and humility is all about understanding that everyone makes mistakes. By not trying something new based on fear of failure, your team will never move forward, learn and grow. This doesn’t mean intentionally making mistakes. The humble leader always tries to avoid obvious mistakes. However, they aren’t afraid to try new methods of accomplishing the end goal. 

Offer Help and Appreciation. 

The confident and humble Servant Leader appreciates the individuals on their team and shows them that they care. They appreciate the talents and uniqueness of each individual. They demonstrate respect by offering to help. There’s an old saying that when you can help others who cannot help you in return, you’ve learned humility. The humble and confident leader offers help and appreciation with no expectation that they will get anything in return. 

Remain Curious.

Humble leaders recognize that there is always an opportunity to learn. They are curious and remain students throughout their lives. They recognize that leadership is a lifelong journey. Leaders realize that there is always more to learn. And they inspire this curiosity in others and confidently approach all situations as opportunities to learn and grow. 

Give Credit Where Credit is Due. 

The leader who walks the line between confidence and humility doesn’t take credit for the work of the team. They recognize that they would be nowhere without the support of the people they serve. They know that their organization is only as good as its employees. If employees feel undervalued, then their work will be negatively affected. Humble leaders always give credit where credit is due and build the confidence of their people by recognizing their contributions. 

What’s next? 

A great leader is able to walk the line between confidence and humility. They recognize that this is a dance that requires continuous and intentional effort each and every day. They look for moments to demonstrate their confidence and know when to step into humility. And they recognize that humility is a strength and know they don’t have to sacrifice their confidence to demonstrate their humility. 

All of the recommendations outlined above will help you unlock and understand how humility and confidence can co-exist simultaneously and create the foundation for Servant Leadership. Humility can be taught and confidence can be strengthened. By modeling humility and confidence, leaders influence future generations of Servant Leaders, making the world a slightly better place. 

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