Confidence vs. Hubris

Tonight, President Obama will address Congress and the nation to outline his plan for recovery.  I cannot imagine a higher pressure experience, except perhaps being the Systems Reliability Engineer at Google during this morning’s outage of Gmail.

I have read a number of articles like this one in the Wall Street Journal about the need for confidence.  We want our leaders to be confident.  But when does confidence turn to hubris?  And how much recognition of “tough times” becomes gloom and doom?

This was the topic at a recent retreat I was facilitating for GM’s of a decentralized national company.  “If we are optimistic they think we are blowing smoke.  And I do not want to sound like Pollyanna.  On the other hand, too much realism and I sound like that guy with the black cloud over his head. It’s a no win proposition.”  (Joe Btfsplk was the world’s greatest jinx in the comic strip, Li’l Abner) After a couple of hours work, here is what the group came up with:

  • Be confident in the organization’s ability to deal with challenges.
  • Avoid the pretense of absolute certainty.  None of us know what will work and what will not until we try it.
  • Focus on the rigor and energy we will need to stay engaged, resilient and nimble as the market changes.
  • Be emotionally resonant about the challenge of traversing a tough market- not about the fear of failure.
  • Recognize that failure is possible, but not a foregone conclusion.  Focus on positives without denying negatives.

I appreciate not only the forthrightness of these guidelines, but the conversation that developed them.  And I am grateful to the group for allowing me to share them.