Yes. I went there. So, this title is definitely loaded isn’t it? It’s written by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a psychologist brave enough to tackle this tough topic. Using his doctoral background and research, he’s gone into the murky waters of why men tend to get chosen for leadership positions over women, and how incompetent men are instead viewed perfect for the job. Here’s a quote from his new book, “Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?”…
“We have created unspoken stereotypes of leaders as people – usually men – who seem oblivious to their weaknesses. And we have great tolerance for people – again, usually men – who are not as talented as they think.
Paradoxically, then the same psychological characteristics that enable men to emerge as leaders may actually be responsible for their downfall. What it takes to get the job is not just different from, but also sometimes the reverse of what it takes to do the job.
How odd, then that so much of the recent debate over getting women into leadership positions has focused on encouraging them to mimic the maladaptive behaviors of ambitions men.”¹
Confidence vs. Competence
This week I went to Flying Tee with a group of friends. Basically you hit golf balls as far as you can or in certain areas as games are created based on accuracy. They’re all tracked by a little kiosk to the side of your table. While, I’m not a golfer, there are real lessons in this game. One of the most obvious were that no matter how confident you were as to where you were aiming the ball, it rarely went exactly where you wanted it to go. My confidence was high. My competence was low. As Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic states in his book, “It may not surprise you that most of us overrate our skills and talents. Decades of research suggest that on virtually any dimension of ability, we tend to assume that we are better than we actually are.”³ And yet, confidence continues to get confused with competence. I was absolutely sure that I could get that golf ball to the predestined flag. Instead each time it veered to the right. In my mind I was great at my long distance game, in reality, not so much.
Carly Fiorina, author of Find Your Way and past CEO of Hewlett Packard, actually lists humility as an important quality in leadership. “Either we can choose humility, or humility will one day choose us. Far better to intentionally assume the posture of a learner, to ask questions, to admit what you do not know.”³ Over confidence can get in the way of humility in a leader. So basically some men are confident when they shouldn’t be and it’s misconstrued as competence. This in no way means that women should act like men, both genders have their own innate strengths. But, leadership is by no means gender specific. In fact according to a study by Alice Eagly, a professor at Northwestern University, “…women elicit more respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision more effectively, better empower and mentor their subordinates, approach problem solving in a more flexible and creative way, and are fairer and more objective in their evaluation of direct reports.”4
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Vigilant Poster Girl
Every week I talk about a book that we’re reading on leadership and self-development. You can follow along by going to the Book of the Week page at the top. And order a book (either kindle, audible, or paperback) by clicking on the photo of that book. When you do that, it also helps fund this site.