True humility is not thinking less of yourself,
it is thinking of yourself less.
Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life
I’ve previously found two concepts in parallel universes of my life at conflict with one another.
Leadership speeches and blog posts and, heck, entire books touted the importance of confidence. Be confident. Have confidence. Stride boldly into your passion (or promotion or potential or whatever equivalently inspirational p-term chosen).
Christian speakers or writers, on the other hand, emphasized humility. Humble yourself and see your weakness and blessed are the meek.
Before I get too far, let me say God is way smarter than me and what He says through scripture is true. At the same time, mere humans can twist words to mean what they believe or perceive. I can certainly do that. We read scripture through our own lens.
So how to square the concepts of confidence and humility?
Take Rick’s advice to heart.
Humility isn’t disliking yourself! Humility just means you think of others more.
Have you ever talked to someone where you felt utterly heard? You have friends who remember your daughter had a dance or you vacationed at a national park and lead conversations from a place of curiosity about others. You also have friends who lead the conversation with stories about themselves, only leaving the last five minutes to give others a voice.
Those in the first category could be completely confident, and actually probably are, but think less of themselves. They care about others and have an authentic curiosity which drives them to listen. The latter friends may have the greatest need for validation or suffer from low self-esteem. Whether we are introverts or extroverts, humility is not determined by how we value ourselves but rather how we value others.
Leaders wanting to lead consistently with their faith values CAN lead confidently, SHOULD lead confidently, and MUST lead confidently. How many times does a scripture command: Be strong and courageous.
Rick Warren’s quote often gets attributed to C.S. Lewis. It’s not his, but Lewis had plenty to say on the topic. In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote::
Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays. He will not be a sort of smarmy person who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.
We are called to humility. But read in context, the command often means one of two things. One, we cannot think of ourselves higher than God. Two, we should not be vain or haughty (a word we don’t use as much anymore, but spot on: arrogantly superior).
We are ALSO called to confidence. Think of Paul’s directive: being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phil 1:6) We are explicitly called to confidence in the works God is doing in us here on Earth.
Confidence. Courage. Strength. Attributes not just of a leader but of a leader true to his or her faith.
The two concepts co-exist in faith and in leadership. The servant leader about whom much has been written well outside of faith circles? That leader is humble. And that leader wouldn’t be leading if she also wasn’t confident.
So let’s stop second guessing ourselves, and instead let’s focus on others. Confident humility can help you navigate whatever challenges arise.