How to Be a Confident Leader Without Being a Jerk

There are many descriptions and ideas about leadership—and plenty of books and articles written about the topic. But by it’s very nature, someone is only a leader if people will follow them. So what inspires followers to accept the direction of their leaders? Confidence. A wavering “leader” makes those in their charge nervous and cautious, and unlikely to follow. Who wants to take direction from someone who either doesn’t seem to understand what they’re doing, or doesn’t know where they’re going? So genuine confidence is a necessary quality of a leader.

But that confidence can be a double-edged sword. Lack of confidence may be a turn-off, but arrogance in a “leader” can be very damaging. No one wants to follow a person who is, well, a jerk. Arrogance repels followers and causes distrust, especially when there is a clear lack of care for individuals. It can even divide a group as followers may feel the need to pick sides. And it can lead the whole team down a dangerous path if the “leader” refuses to recognize limitations in his or her own knowledge, experience, or judgment.

It doesn’t seem to matter what organization is being discussed. Toxic arrogant leadership can be damaging anywhere, and this is definitely true in the fast-paced restaurant industry. The bottom line is important, but company culture has as much if not more impact on the bottom line than what comes out of the kitchen. The arrogant, unbending leader—or jerk—can break down trust, create factions, and even drive away staff and customers.

The cure: humility. A humble leader isn’t weak or wavering. A humble leader simply recognizes that his or her expertise speaks for itself and doesn’t need to be flaunted. Instead, the way to grow a team is to train, empower, and listen. Here’s how a leader can demonstrate—and grow in—humility and build a better team, in a restaurant or anywhere.

  • You don’t have to know everything, but you’ll never know anything if you don’t ask questions. You may be an expert in operations and training, but the only way to know what’s going on in your team members’ immediate areas of responsibility is to ask questions.
  • You are a real person, and your team needs to know that. It’s okay to let your team know you’re not perfect, and it’s valuable to share some of your tough learning experiences with them to help them grow as well.
  • Associate up. Make the time to develop relationships with those who are further in the leadership and corporate journey than you—inside and outside the organization. Learn all you can from these mentoring relationships.
  • Invest in team members. Likewise, develop relationships with and invest time in your team subordinates. They will have an opportunity to learn from you and you will grow both from the experience of mentoring and from the relationships themselves.
  • Be willing to accept feedback from your team, and let them know that you welcome it. Because of your position, and depending on the staff member, you may get some exceedingly positive and exceedingly negative feedback at times, so you’ll have to sift out the outliers. But learn to accept the truth (even if it’s just a kernel) in each communication, and be willing to grow because of it.
  • Be grateful. A leader isn’t a leader if there is no one following. Be grateful and express your thanks to your team for their hard work growing the company and ultimately giving you the opportunity to head the team. Frequent and sincere thanks can go a long way in letting your team know how valuable and appreciated they are.

Humility and confidence are not mutually exclusive. In fact, it is the humble and confident leader that can make the greatest impact—without being a jerk.

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