Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk have the same confidence as James Bond’s, but without the ego

Spectre, the new James Bond movie, opens with an already much-praised, uninterrupted shot of 007 striding across the rooftops of a particularly vibrant and attractive Mexico City. As he effortlessly and confidently steps between buildings without a flicker of fear or doubt, there is an undeniable swagger about the way he moves. He is James Bond: he is the best of the best and he is all ego. And ego, the way Bond wears it, looks hugely appealing.

You can also see this kind of compelling confidence on the corporate stage, when a chief executive such as Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg appears in public. Neither has the bearing of Bond, yet they are no less self-confident in the way they address a crowd or describe their vision of what the future will look like.

Mr Zuckerberg, for example, determinedly talks about making internet access available to everyone on Earth, while Mr Musk has his sights fixed on nothing less than an interplanetary excursion. Both these ideas on paper look, let’s say, a little challenging, yet they are talked about with a confidence borne out of the pair’s extreme success. The decisions they have made, and the instincts they have followed, have been proven right, and they now appear totally assured in their accomplishment.

At some level, all leaders undeniably have a touch of this ego. They have moved upwards, gained attention, added professional accolades. Then at some point, they have made it to the top office, sat in a first management meeting, and faces have all turned expectantly towards their place. They have “made it”.

The problem with the self-confidence this sort of success can create is that an exaggerated or overinflated image of yourself is rarely conducive to the actual role of being a leader. It might help in getting you through the door, but leaders who want to actually be effective at the business of leading need to balance such ego with humility and self-awareness.

Ego, at its best, can certainly be an important attribute for a chief executive. It can mean a healthy measure of confidence and faith in their own decisions and ideas. It could well inspire the dedication of their followers, carrying employees with them on the weight of the leader’s self-belief. It can even help to ignore the voices of self-doubt that might intrude on any major decision. These are positive effects for sure, and they can support a leader to operate effectively and to lead their organisation in the direction they want to take it.

But there is a definite balance to be struck. A leader who has confidence without self-awareness is likely to come quickly unstuck. An egotistical leader, for example, is likely to quickly see trust in them evaporate as they seek to feed their own self-image by claiming every success and denying responsibility for any failure.

They won’t develop their skills because they don’t – in their own view – have any skills that need developing. They are unlikely to delegate because they know themselves to be the best person for the job, and they won’t listen to feedback because there isn’t anything to criticise or correct about their own way of doing things. Put these together and you have someone who will fail to develop, fail to inspire, and fail to use the talents within their organisation. A person in a leadership position perhaps, but definitely not a leader.

Moderating self-confidence with introspection means a leader has the capacity to critically analyse their own actions and decisions, then learn from it. They are more ready to seek the opinions of others and they are more willing to acknowledge a mistake and change course when organisational issues require it.

Think of it like this: James Bond has been running out on missions for 50 years without getting even a sniff of a promotion to top management. It might be that he prefers the fast cars and gadgets, but it could as easily be that his ego just keeps getting in the way.

Ahmad Badr is chief executive of Abu Dhabi University Knowledge Group.

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