Leaders are confident. No wait, leaders are humble.


So, you’re the expert, right? You’re in this leadership role because you know what you’re doing. Of course you involve your team and get input. But still, you own the decision. And when you make the decision, you stand in your authority; you’re confident. All good.

On the other hand, you also know that when the situation is complex, there is no way to know if you’ve made the “best” decision. Only time will tell. When you make the decision, you also stand in that humility and uncertainty. You allow for the possibility that a better path that you haven’t seen yet will open up.

How do you hold both the authority and the uncertainty? If you lean too far in the direction of owning your expertise, you can become the arrogant leader who doesn’t listen. And if you lean too far toward the uncertainty, you either become immobilized and indecisive or you make decisions that no one will execute because of the uncertainty.

“One of the most telling signs of maturity is the ability to hold yet greater and greater paradoxes in tension without having the need to resolve the tension by embracing one side or the other.” ~Carl Jung

I live with this same paradox as a coach. I really believe in the models and approaches I use and I’ve spent decades honing those skills. And yet, my client is the only expert on her inner state, her world. So who am I to think my models will serve her? Arrogance or uncertainty… The art of it is to choose both.

Take Elizabeth (not her real name). Elizabeth is the CEO of an organization of about 300 people. She has a clear and compelling vision for the organization. And yet, she holds back. Many factors are at play, but certainly one of the things holding her back is a fear of seeming arrogant. She fully embodies the humility and needs to balance it with confidence and authority.

Or Paul (also not his name). Paul is also a CEO. His team members sometimes describe him as disconnected, a “know it all.” He wants to avoid being wish-washy or indecisive. He has an important mission and wants to move forward aggressively. He’s got the confidence and needs to balance it with humility.

In case you’re wondering, yes there are some gender patterns in how we manage this paradox. Women are more often averse to being seen as arrogant, men to being seen as wishy-washy. But any of us can wash up on the shoals of either side of this paradox if we’re not mindful of how it operates in us.

Next time you’re making a decision, check in with yourself. Here are some reflection questions you may find useful.

  • How are you allowing both confidence and humility to come into your thinking?

  • How can you stand in your authority and hang out in the uncertainty?

  • What do you notice in your body when you lean toward authority? When you lean toward uncertainty?

Let me know how you wrestle with this dilemma.