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Why humility is the best kind of confidence

November 14, 2014, 12:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of PayPal

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. This week we ask: Career-wise, is it more important to be smart or confident? The following answer is by Christina Smedley, Vice President of Global Brand and Communications at PayPal.

To be successful in business you have to be smart and confident (humble, too). One isn’t more important than the other, and in many situations intelligence and confidence work hand in hand to strengthen the likelihood you will be successful.

When I think about what it means to be smart, I think about three types of smarts, and for each, confidence has an important role to play. First, when you’re smart about your business, one of the most important things you are able to do is chart a direction and a strategy to get there. But then you need the confidence to assert your plan and to rally people to follow you. If you’ve taken some risk with the direction you’ve set, having the confidence to stand up and say, “This is where we’re going—trust me, follow me” becomes even more important. I added humility to the equation because you always need to keep your eye on the people you are serving. I’ve learnt so much here at PayPal from our customers. They guide everything I do for our brand.

Second, being people-smart means you can read a room and trust your instincts. This is a useful whether you’re giving a presentation, conducting an interview, or managing a situation where the group dynamic isn’t meshing. When you’re dealing with different types of people, having confidence in yourself and acknowledging your own humanity makes it easier to empathize. I think empathy inspires loyalty and buy-in.

Finally, when you’re smart about yourself—and this builds on the previous point—you know what you don’t know. Add confidence to the mix, and you have the self-assurance to say, “I don’t know this, but I’m going to surround myself with people who do.” That’s humility too.

When I was thinking about this question, I recalled a feeling—a feeling I think many of us women had—of being a student sitting in a classroom and knowing the answer to a question, but not having the confidence to raise my hand for fear of looking stupid if it wasn’t the right answer. In business, you want to know the answer—or where to find it—and you want to have the confidence to speak up.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Career-wise, is it more important to be smart or confident?

Confidence is the “golden ticket” by Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network.