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Tiffany Chang conductor 


Here are some of my favorite posts:

What's your mission? - I examined mission statements from 71 U.S. orchestras

Empathy in relationships - we know empathy is hard, and we should also know what it is not

Why don't we talk about it? - how organizations may encourage performers to be advocates

Note: New and existing posts will be hosted at

Below you'll only find archived posts from before June 24, 2021.


Confident humility

Posted by Tiffany Chang on 24 June, 2021 at 8:00

A couple weeks ago, I wrote about the liabilities of charisma and how strength of personality may lead to our doing things to please the leader and to our making decisions through the lens of the leader's view of the world.


Well, this poses a dilemma and a series of questions for leaders. Does that mean leaders should not demonstrate strength in vision or exercise their influence on their groups? How could leaders effectively help guide people toward their visions without imposing? How could their groups truly feel fulfilled by their work? What does it even mean to feel fulfilled? 


The questions continue, and they get harder and harder to answer. 

I've always struggled with confidence. Here's what typically goes on in my head - on and off the podium (you just need to add "in rehearsal" after each sentence for on the podium):

      • I know we can all be more fulfilled in our work everyday and I know we can get there, but I don't know how.

      • I've learned so much from people who have brilliant solutions and revolutionary ideas, but I don't know which ideas would work for which problems.

      • I know the change I seek to make in the world, but it might take fifty failed attempts to implement the solutions. I won't know if it'll work until I try, but trying means failing.


Not knowing answers kills my confidence. It leads me to believe that wrong solutions make me a bad leader. Not having all the answers makes me a leader others don't deserve. It makes me believe that once people find out that I don't know everything, they will pass judgement and say that I don't belong.


And on the rare occasion that I do feel confident about a decision, I become afraid that it's not warranted and I'm missing something. I would fear being too confident. 


So, I could never win.


I'm sure this is the result of my personal experiences, but it is also the result of living in a world that indoctrinates these ideas in us on a daily basis. 


However, there is perhaps another way to unpack my battle with confidence, with what Adam Grant calls "confident humility."

Grant describes confident humility as "confidence in skill and ability to reach goals" plus "the humility in the tools and processes to get there."  


As leaders, we can (and should) have confidence in our skills and clarity of vision. Without those, we won't know where we're going nor seek to gain the tools to get there. At the same time, we can (and should) admit that we don't have all the answers. We all have blindspots that blur our view of the world. With the help of others (the group), we can seek to find the best solutions together. So it pays off to show humility in not knowing the processes and questioning the path to reach any goal.


Confidence and humility are therefore not mutually exclusive. You don't need to pick one or the other. 

Leaders that demonstrate confident humility do the following:


1) They normalize the humanity in all of us. We all make mistakes. We don't know everything. Nobody does. Confident humility encourages the people to recognize and reveal the humility in themselves, instead of hiding behind confidence and the need to only supply the right answers (or the right artistic product).

Without that fear of being wrong, imagine the risks we'd be willing to take and the growth we'd be able to accomplish - both personally and in service of the group.

2) They empower the group to openly contribute to problem solving that makes the journey toward the vision more efficient.

If everyone sitting in the rehearsal knows what the problem is and the conductor missed it, why is it the norm that we either secretly fix it ourselves and/or shame the conductor for not having noticed it?

We assume that the conductor should know everything and because they didn't notice something, we conclude that they are deficient in some way. Since the conductor is incompetent, it's up to us to do their job.

While this kind of commentary may be accurate and shows the conductor needs to improve, it fosters judgement that brews fear of doing something wrong and a mindset that supports hiding for not being good enough. It results in us vs. them, a lack of camaraderie, trust, and psychological safety. If we're saying things behind someone's back, which people are saying things about us behind our backs? In addition, there is a lack of us accomplishing something together, but rather you are responsible for this, and I am responsible for that.

What if when the conductor struggles with finding a solution, the group quickly and openly offers the solution they see? The conductor can recognize those who offered it and say thank you, and we fix it and move on.

Sometimes the conductor has the solution, and other times, the group has a better solution. At the end of the day, what are we trying to accomplish? A common goal.


We all can have the confidence in our ability to work toward the same goal, and we are all responsible for getting there in the quickest and most effective way. We also have the humility to seek and ask for help from the others on the team openly. In the process of having both confidence and humility, we start to dismantle the us and them.

When we think of what we want in leaders, we think about someone with an abundance of expertise, who provides solutions to all our problems, and someone who is confident.


These leaders do make our lives easier to some extent, but they also remove autonomy, complexity, and the relationship between effort and reward of problem solving. Those are three elements that lead to fulfillment (according to Malcolm Gladwell and many others). 


When a leader practices confident humility, we are given the opportunity to 1) regain the liberating autonomy to take action we believe in, 2) confront the challenging complexity of problems and having to solve them, and 3) give true effort that leads to satisfying rewards - and thus, fulfillment. 


Finally, Gladwell agrees with Grant by saying, "What we think we need in a leader is their expertise, but in fact, we need a leader for their humility."


I can certainly work harder to become more confident about not knowing all the answers and asking for help.

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