Don't Confuse Arrogance with Confidence

When I was 9 years old, I attended a piano competition. I remember various rooms in the recital hall, probably dividing the performers by competency levels, and a sign-up sheet outside the door for last-minute entries. After wandering around, bored, I decided to put my name on the list and waited patiently for my turn.

I should mention that I do not know, nor have I ever known, how to play the piano.

When my turn arrived, I boldly crossed the room, sat down at the instrument, and banged on the keys for as long as “creative genius” struck. I can only imagine what the judges thought, but it was probably similar to when Joey thought he was speaking French.

I finished my ‘composition’, took a bow, and exited without another thought.

Jump ahead twelve years. I had a comfortable job at a fantastic company in a field I knew nothing about. My boss and (most of) my co-workers were bright, innovative problem-solvers who mentored and encouraged me through a steep learning curve.

But this one co-worker, Beth (name changed), was really a pain. Beth worked in a department that was supposed to cooperate with mine to give our clients the best pricing. After awhile, I noticed that Beth was abnormally slow in returning my emails and regularly seemed unable to complete my requests or deliver the pricing my client needed. Our interactions were always professional, but it soon became clear that Beth didn’t like me and was going to make it difficult for me to do my job well.

So, one day, I sent Beth a meeting invitation, and, at the appointed time, we took our seats opposite one another in the small conference room. I began.

“I’ve noticed that you don’t seem to like me very much.”

Perhaps stunned by my directness, Beth gave only a small nod in reply. I continued.

“In fact, I have the feeling that you - and probably most of your department - think I’m a bitch.” (nervous laughter and another, more assertive, nod from Beth)

“Well, I want to apologize about that. I know that I can come across really strong, especially when I have an opinion or I want to achieve something. I’m sure I’ve said a lot of things that sounded like I don’t trust you to do your job. Am I right?”

Beth finally spoke. She affirmed that she and her team didn’t care for me and that they tried to avoid working with me. I could tell that she was interested in where our conversation would go next.

“Beth, I am really sorry that I let this happen and didn’t come to you sooner. I’m sorry I let my own pride get in the way of serving our clients. I want both of us to succeed here. Do you think, going forward, we can work better together? I am going to be more intentional about approaching you as soon as I have a client request and asking you how much time you need to work on it. I’d like you to tell me if I am ever demanding or rude and to help me manage my personality in a better way. What do you think?”

Beth agreed, and our entire working relationship changed. We never became good friends, but we did operate as a great team. I involved her at the highest level of my decision-making, and she continually delivered impressive results. Sometimes, it even felt like she gave me preferential treatment over others in my department.

JUMP AHEAD ANOTHER 15 YEARS. NOW, I COACH HIGH-PERFORMING, MISSION-DRIVEN LEADERS. AND EVERY SINGLE
ONE OF THEM ASKS, “HOW CAN I BE MORE CONFIDENT?”

What they mean is: how can I be sure that I know everything I need to know in order to do what I have to do? How can I be certain that this will work out? How can I not fail?

When I sat down at that piano at 9 years of age, I didn’t know anything about playing it, but I did it anyway. I used to believe that this was an early example of my strong confidence, but now I know that it was simply arrogance.

Arrogance assumes “I know everything and I will succeed”.
Confidence admits “I don’t know, but I’ve done the work and I’m willing to try.”

If I hadn’t matured from my pre-adolescent self, then my conversation with Beth would have been much different. My arrogance would have assumed that she was the problem, and that I knew the answer (you can imagine how that convo would have ended!). It took confidence for me to confess my weaknesses and to ask for her help, and the end result was good for both of us.  

If you are a leader who struggles to feel confident, what do you want confidence to look like? 

Leave me a note in the comments or schedule a time to have a conversation with me - I'd love to find breakthroughs together!