He is a self-made billionaire. At the age of 34, he was instrumental in the creation of an entirely new town on the outskirts of a major city. Out of nothing, he formed a political party and led it to victory within a year. In short, he has been hugely influential and sustained a leadership position both industrially and politically for decades. Surely a role model for all those interested in leadership?
Maybe not as he is currently also being expelled from parliament, is appealing against eight years worth of prison sentences and is under investigation for bribing a senior Politian to switch sides in a vote of confidence. The phrase that defines him more than any other is ‘bunga, bunga’!
His name, of course, is Silvio Berlusconi and he clearly has drive, ambition and optimism; even at his advanced age of 77. He also has almost unassailable self-belief. Rather like a new-born baby, he seems to believe that the world revolves around him; and to a certain extent, he has made this the case.
As part of this process of building self-belief, a biographer writing in 1994 reported observing Belusconi addressing a sales training session and telling them that every morning he stood in front of the mirror and repeated “I like myself, I like myself”. This is a technique advocated by many self-help practitioners as a way of building confidence.
And therein lies the rub. On the one hand, we need leaders to have confidence in themselves. On the other hand, too much confidence and we have leaders operating from a position of narcissistic fantasy. And this is the real lesson Berlusconi has for us: there is a fine line between a crippling lack of confidence and dangerous levels of over confidence or arrogance. If we want to achieve anything, we need to find and follow that line.
A useful step is to understand what knocks our confidence and how we react when it happens. At the same time, we need to open enough to question ourselves and accept that we will be wrong more often than we’d like to be.
How well do you tread that line? And how do you make sure you haven’t strayed off it?
Confidence is such a critical aspect of leadership that maybe it should be a conscious aspect of whatever leadership model we work to – but always being open to feedback should constrain the worst of our tendencies.