Is Confidence Essential For Leadership?

The simple answer is yes, confidence is essential for leadership. Let’s find out why.

Delineating the difference between leadership and management can help us understand why confidence is so essential.

Management vs leadership

The dictionary defines management as “the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” The key word is controlling. Many managers feel that they have to have all the answers, that they have to solve their direct reports’ problems. What a heavy mantle to carry.

Not only that, but controlling does not engender a desire to follow. What distinguishes leaders and managers is the willingness of others to follow them. Most of us at age two began to assert our independence in an attempt to free ourselves of the control of our parents so that we can make our own choices. That desire for independence grows with age and wisdom.

Another distinction is that managers feel that they must be the decision maker; that they must always be in charge. Conversely, leaders know that there are times when they should lead and times when they should follow. It’s their humility, as well as their respect for others’ abilities that make people want to follow them.

How heavy the mantle of control becomes is evident when things don’t go as planned. It’s human nature to try to save face, so when things go awry it’s little wonder that managers look for rationale that doesn’t involve an analysis of their decision-making process. In other words, they look for someone or something to blame.

Leaders, because they’ve admitted their fallibility at the very beginning, carry no such burden. They readily admit their mistakes because they realize several things:

  • Things rarely go according to plan.
  • It isn’t whether you’ve made a mistake that matters, but whether you learned from your mistake.
  • Mistakes are simply a part of the learning curve.
  • We learn more from our mistakes than what goes well.
  • Mistakes often lead to greater efficiencies.
  • It’s easier to benefit from others’ insights and experience when you admit your mistake and ask for help.

By admitting their mistakes, leaders easily engage others in the search for a solution. The result is much more rapid movement toward the goal because followers freely share their wisdom, experience and assistance in attainment of the goal. They also feel a greater kinship with the goal and its attainment because of their contribution.

As we examine these distinctions between leaders and managers, it becomes obvious that the difference is confidence.


Confident people realize that control is an illusion. While managers feel that they can control situations and people, leaders realize that the only thing they can control is effort. Because they don’t try to control people, people want to follow them.

Confident people have nothing to prove. They are comfortable with who they are and what they’ve achieved while continuously striving to become even better. Who among us doesn’t enjoy being with someone who is comfortable in their own skin and who inspires us to greatness because of their persistent efforts to improve themselves.

Confidence enables leaders to honestly assess their strengths as well as the strengths of others. This honesty is what enables them to assign others the lead when they possess greater skill. Again, who among us doesn’t appreciate the recognition of our skills and the confidence others’ place in us. These feelings of worth make us want to follow a person who extended them to us.

Confident people engage others in the decision-making process. Peter Schutz, former CEO of Porsche AG, said it best when he said “Decide democratically; implement dictatorially.” When people are involved in the decision-making process, they buy into the plan more quickly and implement with greater excitement and intensity. Much of Peter Schutz’s success can be attributed to his confidence in himself and his people.

The Peter Schutz example highlights another benefit of confidence. Confident people are more encouraging and demonstrate greater confidence in their followers than a person who is trying to control them…who dictates their actions and in doing so demeans their talents, skills and abilities.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

For you

If you desire to be a leader, first learn humility. Admit to yourself that you don’t have all the answers and that you have something to learn from everyone you meet. This simple act [simple, not easy] will demonstrate confidence in your own abilities.

Second, establish, with your team, the goals to be achieved, then delegate dictatorially. Keep in mind that there are times when a direct report should take the lead.

Third, let your staff know that you have complete confidence in them by allowing them their own devices for completing their portion of the tasks involved.

Fourth, when a staff member brings a problem to you, don’t solve it. Instead, ask them how they feel they should handle it. This indicates your confidence in them and their ability to discover solutions on their own.

Fifth, recognize not just the results they produce, but the effort they put into achieving those results. This type of recognition is especially important during the period between setting the goal and achieving the result. A little honest recognition goes a long way in helping people remain confident and focused when pursuing long-term goals.

Follow these five steps and you’ll find that others want to follow your lead. Not just because you produce results [which you and they will], but because you made them feel a part of something bigger than themselves, made them more confident in themselves and recognized them for the amazingly skilled people they are.

For our kids

Early in their lives help them understand that control is an illusion; that the only thing we can control is effort.

Let them know that leaders are people whom others want to follow because the leader has, through their confidence, demonstrated humility, helped others become more confident in their abilities and helped them achieve more than they thought possible. It’s one of the most valuable lessons you can teach your child.

Let others know that you love them by sharing this blog post. They’ll appreciate that you care.

I love hearing your thoughts and experiences, please share your thoughts in a comment.

If you’d like to enjoy great confidence, check out our Confidence Self-Study programs (opens in a new link). 

If you’d like to enrich the lives of others by teaching them to be more confident, check out our Teaching Confidence Instructor Certification program (opens in a new link). 

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4 Responses

  1. Deanna

    Another great and wise article Dale! Your insight always surfaces golden nuggets and contemplation for growth. Thank you for your service!!

    • dfurtwengler

      Thanks Deanna. Glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for all you do to increase leaders’ awareness of how they can become more effective and encouraging.

  2. Bill Prenatt

    Dale, As always, your articles bring a lot of thoughts to mind about the topic that you address. This article brought a question to mind.

    My experience suggests that the article is full of truths. My question is why does so many managers rise to the top of their organizations, often overlooking great leaders in the same organization?

    • dfurtwengler

      Bill, I’ll try to keep the response as succinct as possible. In some cases, the best qualified don’t want the responsibility. Some ill-equipped people are better at politics than others. Some rise near the top on the coattails of “managers” who want a loyal lap dog that will do what’s asked of them and be the fall person when things don’t go well. Some of the well-qualified lack the confidence to hold themselves out there as a potential candidate. Some avoid leadership roles because they don’t share their leaderships’ values, yet don’t want to invest time and effort in finding employment in an organization that better fits their values. In an economy where unemployment is high, their need for security might prevent them from seeking other employment. Bill, I’ve barely touched the tip of the iceberg with this response, but these are some of the more common reasons why great leaders are overlooked as less-qualified people get leadership roles. I invite readers to respond to Bill’s insightful question. I’m certain that many of you have other explanations for this all too frequent occurrence.

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