As an avid golfer there have been many times when I’ve thought I solved the riddle of the golf swing and began thinking those three deadly words, “I’ve got it!”
They’re deadly because it seems that whenever I think I’ve figured it out, virtually everything stops working. My swing becomes a mess and I lose my confidence. Any golf pro will tell you that you have to have confidence in the shot you’re trying to make.
We have to have confidence in our role as leaders as well but as soon as we think we’ve figured it out, things start to get messy there as well. I still remember the first time I thought I’d figured leadership out. I was at an offsite meeting listening to a group of middle managers tear apart a leader they found aloft and ineffective. I thought they were talking about another person but, mid way through the session, realized they were talking about me. It was humbling and I was devastated. I had a lot of learning to do.
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. Confidence is quiet. It is constantly receiving and assessing. It is always searching and trying to uncover better knowledge and understanding. It is considerate. It isn’t just open to change; it seeks change. It’s fearless because it doesn’t misinterpret errors as failure. It is concerned with others and is an encourager. It sees the self as a part of others.
Arrogance, on the other hand, is loud and constantly on send. It is concerned with being right rather than finding right. It hides from knowledge and ignores understanding. It fears change and, behind the facade, sees errors as failure. Arrogance criticizes others and sees the self as apart from others.
Effective leaders walk a fine line between the necessity of confidence and the snare of arrogance. This is why it’s important that we surround ourselves with people who see things from a different perspective. It is why a culture of open thought is so much more powerful than a culture of obedience. There is nothing more dangerous to a leader than being surrounded by admirers. It is better to have thoughtful disagreement than thoughtless idolization.
I will never master either the game of golf or leadership. I can only pursue and learn. At least with golf I can resort to technology to improve my game. Leadership is harder. I have to improve myself to improve my game.