Confidence: How Much Is Too Much?


How much confidence should I project to be an effective leader? This is a question I often get when coaching CEOs and other leaders. To help people get a handle on this question, I cite a study in which leaders were asked to rate how many of their decisions each day were correct. They were also asked to evaluate their level of confidence. Employees were then asked to assess the effectiveness of these leaders.

ceo-coaching2Here’s what the study revealed: Leaders who were confident but relatively uncertain were viewed as better managers, more likely to foster creative flow and encourage independent thinking. Those who were confident and certain about the “rightness” of their decisions were viewed as authoritarian and inflexible.

When you think about it, this conclusion isn’t too surprising. When people work for leaders who are confident but uncertain, they feel more relaxed, more expressive, and more innovative. When you work for a boss who is confident and certain, you’re left feeling that your own contributions aren’t as important. You tend to feel second-guessed. Before you know it, most of your energy is devoted to managing your boss’s reactions rather than to finding better ways of doing things. Too much certainty snuffs out the spark.

To break this cycle, leaders should openly admit their uncertainty. They should admit what they don’t know, say they’re not sure about the answer, and state openly that they look to others to find solutions. Great leaders go one step further. They continually poke at their own assumptions and expose their “facts” as probabilities – not certainties. They encourage people to search for better solutions.

I have written an entire chapter about how leaders can stimulate creative flow in my new book The Leadership Equation.

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