“One definition of leadership: The capacity and the will to rally men and women to a common purpose and
the character which inspires confidence.”
Many years ago, I heard Todd Whitaker suggest that the greatest gift teachers can give their students is the gift of confidence. The same holds true, perhaps, throughout the school community: the greatest gift principals can give teachers and the greatest gift superintendents can give principals is also the gift of “confidence.” Successful students, teachers, and principals are, indeed, confident people. Moreover, I do not know a single successful leader who I would not describe as a confident leader. At the same time, these very same successful leaders are also extremely humble people. At first glance, being noted as “confident” and “humble” might strike some as just a bit of a contradiction, but the more I ponder on this apparent contradiction, the more I believe they often go hand-in-hand.
The difference lies in the subtle distinction between confidence and self confidence. I know many outstanding leaders who are confident leaders and who also experience moments of self doubt, nervousness, and uncertainty about their leadership capabilities or decision making. This is not only normal, but also a laudable characteristic of leaders. These are real human beings who struggle with real problems and reflect on these problems continuously as well as their own abilities to work through them along with the help of those they lead. Ultimately, of course, such leaders push through these moments of self doubt and project an aura of confidence when leading others. What helps them push through these inevitable bouts of questioning is not so much self confidence, but their confidence in the work itself, or their mission as a leader. The very best leaders I know may experience moments of self doubt, but they never question the importance of the mission or their confidence in achieving the vision of the classroom, school, or district they are leading. This sense of confidence they project to others comes across not so much as self confidence, but, rather, confidence in their belief that--with everyone pushing in the same direction--the mission must be fulfilled and the vision will be achieved. We admire--and follow--leaders who are confident about the mission more than they are about themselves. Of course, deep down, many of these same leaders who regularly question themselves do indeed possess a great deal of self confidence and do firmly believe they can help others grow and help the organization succeed. As leaders, however, they subordinate in importance any confidence in their own abilities to their confidence in the work and the ability of others to achieve great things.