I just read this very interesting article in the Harvard Business Review: “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?” I think the even more important question to ask is: “Why do so many competent women (and men) NOT become leaders?”
The author, Professor of Business Psychology Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, argues that the reason is that people often mistake signs of confidence with competence. And because men often act more confidently than women, they are fooled into believing that men are more competent.
Even more worrisome is a study that shows that leaderless groups tend to select narcissists as leaders. Narcissists are over-confident – they exaggerate their talents and abilities, are self-centered and lack empathy for others. They also like power, so they seek out leadership positions. And because they are usually charming and extroverted, others are eager to elect them as leaders. But the problem is that they don’t necessarily make better leaders.
The best performing leaders are actually humble. Jim Collins, author of Built to Last and Good to Great, has spent 20 years studying what allows companies to become great. Collins found that the key ingredient that allows a company to become great is having an executive who possesses genuine personal humility with intense professional will.
Humility is much more common in women than in men. Women regularly outperform men in emotional intelligence, which is an indicator of empathy and related to humility. Studies across cultures also show that women are more sensitive, considerate, and humble than men.
So if women are capable and have the necessary humility to be a great leader, why do fewer of them end up in leadership roles?
Here is the problem: What it takes to get into a leadership position is very different from what it takes to do a job well. As a result, less competent people end up in these positions and are promoted over more competent people.
So what to do to overcome this problem? I don’t think the answer is to turn into a narcissist. But there is no question that competence alone is not enough. Early in my career I believed that if I was only capable enough and worked hard enough, I would be recognized for my work. I learned the hard way that this was not the case.
The fact is that while competence is important, people really respond to confidence. Luckily, this is something that can be practiced. First, we need to discover and appreciate our strengths and talents. Secondly, we need to stop our own inner critic and cultivate our inner champion instead. Finally, we need to recognize and acknowledge ourselves for all of our accomplishments. Yes, we all have them! And we often don’t stop long enough to celebrate them.
We need more great leaders in this world, not just in corporations, but also in other organizations and in our daily life, our families, relationships, etc. We don’t need an official role to be a leader, but we do need to step up with more confidence. Are you ready to be humble AND confident?