Harvard Business Review Press
Your leadership search is down to two candidates.
One candidate is fully competent, with 20-plus years of directly relevant experience.
The other candidate’s full of confidence and rocked the room during the two-hour meet-and-greet interview with your selection committee.
Of course you’d choose two decades of experience over two hours of showmanship.
So how to explain organizations that inexplicably choose a confident man over a competent woman?
How do these organizations not know how this story plays out? Mr. Confident will quickly reveal himself to be all hat and no cattle. Along with failing to live up to the hype, he’ll prove that nothing destroys workplace morale quite like incompetence in the corner office. Meanwhile, the competent woman will go on to do great things with a smart organization that knew what to look for in an effective leader.
“When men are considered for leadership positions, the same traits that predict their downfall are commonly mistaken – even celebrated – as a sign of leadership potential or talent,” says Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, chief talent scientist at ManpowerGroup, psychologist, university professor and author of Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders?
“They are overconfident, abrasive and very much in awe of themselves, particularly in light of their actual talents. They are their own biggest fans by some distance.”
We confuse these flaws in men with desirable leadership qualities, says Chamorro-Premuzic. “Traits like overconfidence and self-absorption should be seen as red flags. But instead, they prompt us to say ‘Ah, there’s a charismatic fellow! He’s probably leadership material.”
This confusion saddles us with a glut of incompetent men running the show, crowding out and leaving fewer opportunities for competent women and men.
“Women’s paths to leadership are undoubtedly dotted with many barriers, including a very thick glass ceiling. But the more I have studied leaders and leadership, the more I believe that the much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men.”
A Northwestern University review of 45 leadership and gender research studies makes the case for why we’d all be better off with more women in charge. The research shows women are more capable of driving positive change, elicit more respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision more effectively, better mentor subordinates, problem-solve in more creative ways and give more objective evaluations to direct reports.
‘Compelling evidence suggests that leadership is more likely to improve if we start drawing more heavily from the female talent pool, especially if we understand that the women most likely to drive positive change look quite different from the typical leaders we have today, irrespective of gender.”
Good leadership from both women and men requires intellectual, social and psychological capital. There’s also a host of bright side personality traits to look for in strong leaders, including curiosity, extroversion and emotional stability.
Chamorro-Premuzic says the evidence shows a good leader is someone who builds a winning team, helps that team outperform rivals, depends on the team’s performance and unites the team in pursuit of a shared goal.
Telling women to lean in, man up and fake it until they make it is not the answer. Why would we want competent women to adopt the leadership traits of incompetent men? Chamorro-Premuzic instead shows organizations how to redefine and elevate leadership and why they should start choosing competence and integrity over confidence and charisma.
“Since we all want better leaders, we should not lower our standards when we select women, but we should raise them when we select men.”
Jay Robb serves as communications manager for McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.