Confidence and Competence

Why do so many incompetent men become leaders? That is the crucial question tackled by HBR.

The answer in a nutshell: an "inability to discern between confidence and competence."

But what of the followers?

"Freud argued that the psychological process of leadership occurs because a group of people — the followers — have replaced their own narcissistic tendencies with those of the leader, such that their love for the leader is a disguised form of self-love, or a substitute for their inability to love themselves."

And unfortunately,

"Most of the character traits that are truly advantageous for effective leadership are predominantly found in those who fail to impress others about their talent for management."


Succeeding in Business for Women

This advice really resonated with me.  From Amy Schulman, executive at Pfizer  

"Q. You touched on the point of confidence earlier. Can you elaborate?

A. For many guys, this is simpler because they’re not as over-invested in the question of “Do I belong?” Everything is not a test. If you’re not viewing interactions as a litmus test for whether you belong, you’re going to act better. On the other hand, if you’re looking all the time for that kind of validation, you’re either going to be self-conscious or insecure, and neither of those is a recipe for success. What you want is the kind of inherent confidence that leads to grace. You want to be around people who are having fun and enjoying what they’re doing"

Body Language

I've always believed many of our answers are in our bodies. Our bodies often know what we think and feel before we do. So it's not a leap for me to see how our body language communicates our thoughts and feelings to others and even more importantly, to ourselves.

See also the work of Deborah Gruenfeld from the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Can You Be Too Confident?

Yes. Because, according to Daniel Kahneman, author of the new book "Thinking Fast and Slow," "people are blind to their own blindness." In this great NYTimes article excerpt from his book, he demonstrates how people, even when faced with evidence that their conclusions are incorrect, will continue to insist that their process yields good results. Which immediately makes me think about all the nonsense out there around hiring.

And entrepreneurship - how does anybody predict who will be a good entrepreneur/CEO? It's difficult. As Kahneman puts it, "True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes. ...To know whether you can trust a particular intuitive judgment, there are two questions you should ask: Is the environment in which the judgment is made sufficiently regular to enable predictions from the available evidence? The answer is yes for diagnosticians, no for stock pickers. Do the professionals have an adequate opportunity to learn the cues and the regularities? The answer here depends on the professionals’ experience and on the quality and speed with which they discover their mistakes."

The Benefits of Difficulty

That's right. When things are difficult we learn more. So say the scientists behind a study that compared the effect of fonts on the participants ability to recall studied material in an exam. The experiment had half the participants read text in 16-point Arial font and the other half in 12-point Comic Sans MS or 12-point Bodoni MT. These last two were deemed to be harder to read fonts. Those participants who studied the material in the more unfamiliar fonts did better on their exams. Why? Because their brains had to work harder to process the material. The finding: "difficulty builds mental muscle, while ease often builds only confidence."

Further: “For example, we know that if you study something twice, in spaced sessions, it’s harder to process the material the second time, and people think it’s counterproductive,” said Nate Kornell, a psychologist at Williams College. “But the opposite is true: You learn more, even though it feels harder. Fluency is playing a trick on judgment.”