One of the core qualities authors frequently unearth when attempting to reverse engineer the success and impact of leadership is HUMILITY. The definition of humility is having a modest or low view of one’s ability. But, to foster healthy relationships and team engagement, it’s more about having an “accurate” view of one’s strengths and weaknesses than a “low” view.

We don’t typically view humility through that lens. But, the journey of knowing who we are is critical in understanding humility in terms of leadership.

Patrick Lencioni highlights humility as the most important of the three virtues detailed in his book “Ideal Team Member.” He explains that great team players (and, if I may add, great leaders) don’t have big egos or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and generally don’t seek attention for their own. They define success collectively and not individually. People who are not humble cannot be vulnerable or build trust and are incapable of engaging in honest conflict.

No one has a perfectly clear view of their strengths and weaknesses. Some of us naturally “tip” toward the insecurity end, while others fall more toward the overconfident or arrogant end of the spectrum. The insecurity side is rooted in a lack of confidence, and the overconfident side is rooted in disproportionate confidence levels.

While there are only two ends of the spectrum, there are three approaches one who lacks humility can carry in response to their inner belief and capabilities:

Insecurity

A low view of one’s abilities will undoubtedly lead someone to take fewer risks and “hold back.” Holding back can range from not speaking up to not carrying the confidence to take on a project or more responsibilities. From a team perspective, the only positive gain on the insecurity side that we don’t see on the arrogant end is most people are more inclined to provide support and encouragement for someone who conveys a lack of confidence.

Arrogance

An inflated view of one’s self carries with it many of the opposite attributes. People who are blind to their weaknesses will naturally carry a boldness, whether speaking up for or against an idea or grabbing the reins or a new initiative. The challenge from a team perspective is that others are far less prone to encourage and support arrogant team members. They see them as abrasive, less collaborative, and there tends to be a desire to “cut them down to size,” or at the very least, hope it happens along the way.

Insecurity Masked with Arrogance

Team members who carry high levels of insecurity but mask it with arrogance bring about several unique challenges. The first is that these team members are less likely to ask for help, hindering their development. They will carry out underdeveloped ideas and make unnecessary mistakes.

The second is that the mask of arrogance doesn’t invite the support and encouragement that’s beneficial in deepening confidence. From here, a cycle begins to ensue. Team members carry forward ideas that haven’t been sharpened and desperately hope to hear, “great job.” When this team member doesn’t receive the affirmation, it’s natural for the insecurity to balloon, only to be covered up, and the wheel of discomfort and dysfunction spins.

Team members with high levels of insecurity or high levels of arrogance bring about their own unique challenges. They are a bit easier to identify and, in turn, coach than team members who have both.

A few questions to further reflect:

  • Where are you on the spectrum as a person and leader? Do you lean toward the insecure side, perhaps with inflated confidence, or use one to cover the other?
  • Is there a team member that comes to mind when you think of each of the postures mentioned above?
  • If so, what are some ways you can help coach these team members? This is a great spot to bring Brene Brown’s “Clear is Kind” to the forefront.

Cheers to meeting people where they are and inviting them into greater health and fulfillment!

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