Pride or Confidence. Pick One.

A few years ago I took a frank look at my career – past, present, and future – and made a stark assessment: I had two serious gaps to fill if I wanted to reach my ultimate goal.* So I set out to do something about that.

The gaps were these:

First, a gaping ignorance of IT – of all things computer-related, be they hardware or software. This was frustrating when I was CEO, even once I had an IT staff. In theory I didn’t have to understand IT, just employ others to explain it to me in layman’s terms, a la Henry Ford with his staff of experts. In practice, this ignorance led me to wildly over-invest in an online project whose scope I simply did not understand.

Ignorance of IT hobbled me in growing my business.

Second, I had never worked for an enterprise, or “really big company,” and I didn’t have a true insider’s feel for how they worked. I sensed they were much, much different in some culturally fundamental way from an SMB (a Small or Medium Business), but how, exactly?

This one was important because I wanted to help enterprises as I was helping SMBs. And I wasn’t getting any further within enterprises than the division or business unit level; often not even that.

Ignorance of the enterprise was holding me back in growing my career as a speaker and outside expert.

I knew I had to make a change, to fill these two gaps. This wouldn’t be easy: I was up against two very daunting obstacles of my own creation. The first was my utter distain of IT as “geeky.” I came of age in the eighties, when most college kids still only used computers to type out their term papers. But that contempt was itself uncool, and I knew it was long past time to get over it.

My second obstacle was that, if I wanted to gain an insider’s understanding of the enterprise, I needed to swallow my CEO-sized ego and allow myself to take an entry-level role for a few years while I learned.

Ouch. The first one was tough. The second…? One needs a tremendous amount of confidence to subdue his ego and let someone else play boss while he plays novice. But, despite my career highs to that point, within the enterprise I was in many ways a novice, an uninitiated outsider.

Pride is dysfunctional; it is self-limiting by its very nature. And here is the important thing, the very hard thing I’ve had to wrap my head around: pride is rooted in insecurity, in lack of confidence.

The confident leader is comfortable allowing others to lead.

I’ve been on a remarkable adventure of learning over the past three years. Has it been hard on my ego to allow others to lead so I can learn? Of course it has. But the result is fundamentally greater knowledge. I have filled my two gaps. I have also grown in my inner security; I’ve matured as a person.

In future posts, I will share more of my adventure with you. In the meanwhile, I want to leave you with this question: what are you willing to give up in order to get to your ultimate goal? Are you strong enough to give up your ego, to subdue your insecurities?

Maybe this type of journey is harder for a man, with the pressure (real and imagined) we put ourselves under to be strong, to be certain at all times. Maybe it’s harder as we get older, for similar reasons. But then again, I’m not so sure. Maybe it’s just hard, and those are just lame excuses.

Weigh in now in the comments below, and tell us your experience. Share links to your own blog if you’ve written on this. This is fundamentally important stuff; soul-changing stuff, if we allow it to be. What has your own journey toward true confidence been like? I’m eager to learn from you.


*Some other time, we’re going to get into my ultimate career goal, and yours. But one thing at a time.

Ted Coiné is a Forbes Top 10 Social Media Power Influencer and an Inc. Top 100 Leadership and Management Expert. This stance at the crossroads of social and leadership put him in a unique perspective to identify the demise of Industrial Age management and the birth of the Social Age. The result, after five years of trend watching, interviewing and intensive research, is his latest book, A World Gone Social: How Companies Must Adapt to Survive, which he co-authored with Mark Babbitt. An inspirational speaker and popular blogger, Ted is a pioneer of the Human Side of Business (#humanbiz) movement. He is also a serial business founder and three-time CEO. When not speaking at conferences and corporate functions, Ted advises CEOs on how to become Truly Social Leaders, or “Blue Unicorns” as they put it in A World Gone Social, in order to bring their companies into the Social Age. Ted’s advice: “Change is only scary if it’s happening to you. Instead, bring the change your competitors dread. That is something only a Social Age business leader can accomplish.”

  • Ted, there are so many excellent points in your post. Your first one is the ability as humans to reflect on where we are, what we want, and to perceive the gap that only we can close.

    This ability to retrospect — to look at the recent past with an eye toward the near future – can explain a lot about growth, learning, and success.

    Thank you.

    And on your point about pride, it appears we have shared a trajectory. I realized a few years ago that my mission and purpose would likely not be achieved unless I got over myself. I had — and have — a fabulous message, yet when I put it out there I would routinely get hammered by the smart people I was “trying” to serve for what I came to realize was my arrogance.

    My message wasn’t “look at this great message” but “look at how cool I am for bringing this great message to you.” So I pivoted.

    Over the last three years I have delivered my work and message with far more edginess and clarity — often expecting a lash-back as before, but it there is none. Why? I simply stopped taking myself so seriously. It’s not about me. It’s about the purpose, the work, the message.

    Now arms and doors are opening up all over the world at an amazing pace, and it’s freeing and fun.

    Thanks Ted and Shawn for your good work — and reflections.

  • i think by humbling yourself and letting yourself be taught by others you are exposing the good manager in you. cuz isnt the sign of a good manager one who lets his people shine and do what they’re good at? so…you’re giving your people a chance to show you what they’re good at. ?

  • Yes. Expect and embrace that things won’t be done the way you necessarily like it … that you’ll learn from that.

  • The education people have a great word, metacognition – pretty big word for engineers like me to use … But it’s so important for everyone as you point out: self-assessing how things are going and determining how things might go better. Very consistent as well with the four needs we all have – as identified by the late Stephen Covey. I refer to them as academic, physical, social, and internal. The ast one is the keystone: routinely (in my case Sunday mornings with my cup of coffee) metacognating on how the other three needs are being addressed. Covey suggests strongly that not addressing all four needs will lead to unhappiness and worse.

    As you point out, it’s pride or confidence; I prefer to CHOOSE or SELECT one (better than PICK which suggests less thought given). Pride empowers ego and authority. But confidence arises from the collective learning of all involved – consistent with the individual and collective metacognition of all involved … For me at least, it’s an easy decision!

  • “Pride is dysfunctional; it is self-limiting by its very nature. And here is the important thing, the very hard thing I’ve had to wrap my head around: pride is rooted in insecurity, in lack of confidence”

    Profound! This should be applied to every portion of human life. Turning 40 was a huge epiphany for me. I had reached a point where I could not understand why my life had changed so drastically the 5 years prior. I put in the work. I was now a mother of 4 with a PhD, soon to send my first child off to college.

    I had to humble myself a lot in the past year. I took some time off to care for my mother, not realizing that during my time off the recession would hit. Then one thing led to another. A once very secure educator became vulnerable and exposed. I kept saying to myself, and sometimes others….,” I have all the education I need. Why would I need to go back to school? I know everything I need to know.” I skipped out on free workshops and recommendations for conferences, frustrated with the thought of needing to learn more.
    Last year I decided to add …well actually complete the psychology component of my certifications. I saw a need and actually experienced enough turmoil in my personal life, to thrust me into making major changes in my life. These experiences helped me to develop my formal training as an educator. This afforded time to regroup, spend more time at home with my family, and opened new more fulfilling pathways for success. The sacrifice of a smaller income, and a tighter budget will was well worth it. I had to look at the bigger picture! It was all there, but I had to humble myself to evolve.

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