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business, deming, leadership, lean thinking

Confidence and Humility: Two Critical Leadership Traits

There are many traits that make one an effective leader.  Among the most important of these are confidence and humility, two attributes that many think cannot coexist in the same person.  I have found, however, that confidence and humility actually work together to improve the ability to lead and, although some people tend to possess these traits more naturally than others, they can be developed through effective coaching and feedback.

Confidence enables a leader to possess an unwavering commitment to purpose and direction of a team, while humility opens the leader up to continual learning.  And when defining confidence as self-assurance resulting from demonstrated capabilities, it is not possible to possess or have true self-assurance without the commitment to continual learning.

CONFIDENCE

W. Edwards Deming listed constancy of purpose as the first of his 14 points for effective leadership and lack of it as a deadly disease or barrier to improving business performance. Without clarity and confidence in the purpose of a business, a leader and/or those within the organization will continually question the direction and continually jump to the issue of the day resulting in very short-term, if any, success.

Confidence resulting from true abilities and understanding of the business, on the other hand, can give the leader the assurance that the purpose is correct, and prevent the daily distractions from taking the organization off course.

Another aspect of confidence is the belief that developing the abilities of team members is not a threat to the leader’s power or position, but a necessity to maintain it successfully.  A confident leader makes developing people, including the next set of leaders, a top priority for the business.

Many people tend to confuse confidence and arrogance.  The characteristics of confidence that make it a vital leadership trait are not present in ones who display arrogance.  Discussions that include condescending remarks, as well as an overall lack of focus on developing others are clear signs of arrogance rather than confidence.  Conveying negative energy, a lack of openness to questioning of decisions and actions, and overall uncomfortableness are other characteristics of arrogant leaders.

Basically, people want to be around confident leaders but will do whatever they can to avoid arrogant ones.

HUMILITY

As mentioned above, humility gives people the belief that there is much they don’t know and lead to the desire to continually learn.  Humility enables a leaders to comfortably use inquiry when attempting to investigate a problem or develop the skills of team members because they don’t worry about others questioning their knowledge or abilities.

Leaders who lack humility have trouble with structured problem-solving because of the tendency to jump to the countermeasure without truly understanding the root causes of a problem.  The kaizen process only works when an individual or team go into it with an open mind and the realization that they don’t always know the answer.  To do this effectively requires humility.

WORKING TOGETHER

When possessed together, humility and confidence can drive leaders toward constancy of purpose for the area they lead, along with the PDSA mindset needed to continually adjust the approach to remain on course.  When the leader models these behaviors regularly, people will be more receptive to following him or her and adopting the same traits in their own work.

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About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.

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