I have been a witness to numerous meetings where Jody speaks up, takes the lead in discussions, and readily shares his opinion. However, he is not the lead nor the most capable person to talk about the topic or project. Yet the result; the leadership thinks Jody is a super performer and leader because of the confidence he exudes. All of us, his coworkers, know he is not nearly as capable as other members of the team, yet he was promoted ahead of more capable peers.”

Is Jodys display of confidence a misinterpretation of competence?

In a Harvard Business Review article titled Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders”  Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, makes the argument confidence is often interpreted as competence.

Ever had feelings of disdain for an individual who was arrogant? What was the source of that distain?

Some thoughts to help us consider the answer to that question:

What is competence?

What is confidence?

Competence: How good you are at a task, skill, or talent you possess.

Confidence: How good you think you are at a task, skill, or talent you possess

How does an individuals level of confidence actually correlate to their level of performance or skill?

The conclusion of many; high confidence equals high skill.

This conclusion is rarely confirmed by science. We have all heard of the statistic 80% of drivers believe they are better than average. What is the basis of that decision? It is not data. It likely comes from impressions, emotions, and feelings.

How did Jody get promoted if he is not producing? What was the measurement of his leadership?

What is your experience? On a scale of 1-10, score how true you think the following statements are with 10 being absolute truth and 1 being not true at all.

Highly incompetent individuals inaccurately assess their skills, abilities, and talents.

Highly competent individuals are typically self-critical of their skills, abilities, and talent.

The more capable an individual, the more critical they are of themselves, and aware of their limitations.

The less an individual knows, the less self-aware they are and can portend overconfidence.

My take, the disdain you felt for that arrogant colleague was a result of the overconfidence they exhibit based on their actual ability.

What makes overconfidence so prevalent?

Two reasons. First, many individuals do not have a realistic view of their capabilities, i.e., they think they are above-average drivers. Low self-awareness.

Second, the appearance of confidence gets rewarded. If a display of confidence, whether it is validated by competence, gets recognized, you will see displays of confidence”.

Leadership Impact

In your leadership role, what are you recognizing as competence?

Some objective questions to ask yourself:

  • What measurable criteria am I using to promote and hire for leadership positions?
  • How does a display of confidence influence my view of competence?
  • What am I using to measure competence?
  • How do I view individuals in my organization that is quiet?

We all have biases. For years we have been influenced by stereotypes of confident leaders and see the confidence on lists of the traits of an effective leader. We have popular mantras we listen to such as fake it until you make it” and glamorize the confident decisive leader.

Interview performance is often a dominant deciding factor when hiring or promoting leadership positions. Thats great if the interview actually determines competence. 

Want to have a significant impact on your organization? Develop, hire, and promote competent leaders. Uncover the link between confidence and competence in your leaders. Some possible actions:

  • Make self-awareness a key part of the leadership development of your potential leaders
  • Make evaluations and 360 assessments part of your leadership development program
  • Define measurable metrics for promotion into leadership positions
  • Reduce the weight interviews have on the criteria for leadership selection
  • Make interviews more objective evaluations of knowledge, skills, and abilities
  • Seek out competence in your organization and put it on display

Everyone wants confident, competent leaders. What are you doing in your organization to define it, develop it, and reward it?