Are You Confident Or Just Arrogant?

Leadership can be challenging. Among other things, it takes confidence. Nobody wants to follow a weak, apprehensive leader. Therefore you must project confidence in order to inspire others to follow you. But there isn’t a pill that you can just pop and instantly become confident. So most people fake it. 

You might have ascended the corporate ladder and been placed in charge of other people through your intelligence, charisma, charm, enthusiasm, hard work or some other way. But, no matter what, you must have confidence.

Most leaders, in their effort to show confidence, become very unsavory. If you lead people, take this evaluation to see if you have true confidence or just arrogance masquerading as confidence. 

1. Do you refuse to admit error?
Let’s face it, no human being is immune to this character flaw. We all hate to admit we’re wrong. We erroneously assume that admission of error is a sign of weakness. But it’s not. It shows other people that you can be truthful with yourself, which instills greater trust in your followers. We all know that nobody knows everything, and nobody bats a thousand. Sometimes we strike out. If you refuse to admit error, stop pretending. We’re not buying it. Just say, “I messed up on that one.” Then correct course. That will earn heaps of respect from everyone.

2. Do you refuse to accept criticism?
You can spot an insecure person by how defensive they get when they are critiqued or criticized. Especially if they are immediately defensive. A person who is self-aware will listen to criticism and internalize it before responding. They do so because they seek self-improvement and allow themselves a moment to consider whether or not the criticism is valid. We are not always right. And we don’t always see the flaws others can see. If this is you, start welcoming criticism. True leaders not only welcome it, but they invite it. 

3. Do you ever ask for input? 
A person who never asks for advice is a pathetic soul indeed. We all need input. It’s impossible to have effective output without quality input. Transfer of information must be a two way street. No matter what your level of achievement, there’s always something more to learn. Plus, our subordinates often have genius thoughts and ideas they hesitate to share, perhaps out of their own insecurity. If you simply say, “What do you think?” you can coax those ideas out of them and potentially revel in the genius together. Or even inspire additional ideas.

4. Do you order people or ask them?
Some people love to exercise their authority. They love to command and control. But true leaders prefer to inspire and empower. They request instead of demand. It's been said that Andrew Carnegie, the famous tycoon and philanthropist, always asked people to do this or that task. He’d say, “Do you think you could take this on?” or “How do you feel about performing this task?” The magic in this approach is that people are far more likely to work harder if they feel apart of the decision instead of subjected to it. It’s just simple psychology. 

5. Do you swagger?
Swagger never invokes the awe and respect that swaggerers believe it does. Their refusal to make eye contact, their refusal to acknowledge other people in the halls, their obsession with appearances, and their slow, meandering stride—as if they’re unburdened by responsibility of any kind. Then there’s their condescending remarks and their dismissal of input or ideas. You know what I mean. The only thing missing is the stench. This is a true sign of insecurity. Truly confident people don’t need a facade. They’re comfortable in their own skin.

6. Do you love flattery?
Everyone blushes when they’re complimented, but most people tend to get uncomfortable when it’s excessive. But not arrogant people. They can’t get enough. In fact, they often surround themselves with brown-nosers. Contrarily, leaders with true confidence care little for flattery. It offends their sense of humility. They’d rather shine a light on their mission or their team instead of themselves. 

7. Do you have compassion?
The aforementioned character traits are bad enough, but leaders who project an emotionless, robotic image can invoke the icy chill of post-war Stalinist Russia. That is not an environment that inspires people to do their best work. It’s an environment that inspires people to search for a new job. Next time you have to ask someone to work late or take on an uncomfortable task, show compassion and sensitivity. Feel bad about it. Maybe roll up your sleeves and help. And when your subordinates deliver for you, reward their loyalty and dedication with something special. A bonus, a free lunch, a shoutout, whatever. Compassion and appreciation goes a long way.

I’m sure there are additional signs that you are mistaking your arrogance for confidence. But seven feels like a nice number.

If you lead people, avoid the perils of the above points. To be confident you don’t have to be pompous and prickly. Build true confidence through belief. When your beliefs are founded on truths, you’ll have natural confidence. But have the humility to accept new information and grow. The more you learn—while staying honest, humble and compassionate—the more truly confident you’ll become. And the more people will gladly traverse mountains for you.