Humble Confidence

Humble Confidence

Over the years I’ve had the honor to observe numerous Executive Directors, Presidents, Principals, Senior Pastors, Vice Presidents of Advancement, and Major Gift Officers in action. I’ll admit it’s very inspiring to see men and women in these roles make bold, strategic decisions that advance their school, ministry, or local church. But I’ve also seen a number of poor decisions made, which makes me wonder how quickly leaders admit they’ve made a mistake.

Whether small or large, seen or unseen, all have failed to hit 100% of making the right decision. They’ve all taken a wrong turn, made a wrong step and have fallen short. But when they do, how transparent are they with their staff and those they serve?

On a recent flight back from British Columbia, Canada, I had the opportunity to meet someone who had just witnessed Nordstrom’s open their first store in Canada. He was an investment analyst from New York and has worked with numerous high-profile investment firms that financially stand behind large projects. We talked about the dynamics of seeing an idea turn into reality, and all the work it took just to open the one store. We also talked about Target opening up for the first time not one, but 150, stores across Canada in one year, which has turned out to be a virtual financial train wreck.

Not missing the opportunity to glean some great insights, I asked him two questions:

1. What’s the #1 mistake you see in Sr. Leaders that puts them/their company way off track or even in serious peril?

His answer: “…there’s is always a fine line between a CEO’s expectations to push an organization and what an organization is really capable of doing (well). For instance, if your operations people tell you it’s going to take three years to build and implement a system, don’t tell them to do it in two years. That simply won’t work out well. Have a point of view that is aggressive but not unrealistic. Think Ron Johnson at JC Penney versus Frank Blake (Home Depot) – back to basics strategy.”

What a great reply!

2. Is there one person (or story) you know that stands out where a leader looked in the mirror, admitted mistakes, stayed with the company, and saw things positively turn around?

“I think Blake Nordstrom would fit. A third generation appointed after the first outside CEO was fired. He was not put on the Board initially. He has consistently balanced putting the customer first, with a decentralized selling culture while steadily growing the top and bottom line, and has improved the return on investment during his tenure. There are not many 100+ year old success stories in retail and Nordstrom is one!”

Though I’m not well versed on the business sector and the back stories of those he mentioned, the fact that he had tangible examples reminded me that we all can learn a lot from those around us.

Let’s face it; anyone who is called to leadership eventually gets a wheel stuck in the ditch. Mistakes are made. But the steps that are taken once a mistake becomes evident are a true test of deeper leadership.

For those who have done well and have kept leading effectively, I’ve often found “humble confidence” in their leading. Humility to know when mistakes are being made. Whether it is self-realized or discovered by listening to staff/constituents who can speak honestly, humility is present.

At the same time, it also takes confidence to keep pressing forward and running up the next hill of opportunity. That takes confidence to use skill, wisdom and fortitude.

Combined, humble confidence seems to inspire, which is why those who’ve mastered this often find a strong following and support in their organization.

So how about you, what kind of leadership to you convey? Humility? Confidence? Or humble confidence?




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