If one searches for lists of the top characteristics of leaders, it is likely that many would include confidence. This makes sense: If leaders are uncertain about themselves and their decisions, how can they instill confidence in their employees? It seems a confident leader could readily inspire, self-assuredly take risks, and assertively address organizational conflicts and issues.
What if a confident leader was asked to rate her competence? Would she over-estimate, under-estimate, or fairly assess her level of competence?
What are the chances that a confident leader is overly-confident in certain areas due to the fact that she is confident to begin with?
Inability to Assess One’s Competence Accurately
In many intellectual and social domains, most people tend to overestimate their abilities. They tend to believe they are better than average. This is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
Those who overestimate their abilities face two major consequences. First, they lack the insight to recognize their true or objective competence level. Second, their lack recognition of this fact may lead them to make poor decisions.
Leaders’ Coaching Abilities
Data was collected from a pool of 3,761 leaders. Participants were asked to self-assess their coaching competence. After their self-assessment, their coaching competence was evaluated by others.
On average, leaders who were confident in their coaching competence tended to overrate their abilities in the self-assessment. They scored below average (by others) in coaching effectiveness (32nd percentile).
Leaders who underrated their coaching proficiency scored above average (by others) in coaching effectiveness (57th percentile).
Is Competence the Wellspring of the Confident Leader?
We assume confidence comes from competence.
It’s an assumption we cling to regardless of whether we are choosing a handyman, an accountant, or a mechanic.
This assumption also occurs in the workplace. It manifests itself through hiring decisions, and our assessments of our coworkers, direct reports, and superiors.
The assumption is simply wrong.
As we have seen, a confident leader or a leader who has poor self-assessment skills, or is trying to compensate for a certain ignorance is frequently one who over-assesses his abilities.
If confidence is not a great indicator for competence, what is?
The Competent Leader
If confidence has mixed reviews when determining a leader’s competence, what characteristics of a leader may indicate a better measure of competence or at least the likelihood that this leader is not suffering from an overestimation of abilities? Three characteristics immediately come to mind.
- Your Awareness of Strengths and Weaknesses
To avoid the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a leader must continually evaluate his/her strengths and weaknesses. No leaders have all the answers. Many competent leaders are aware of this fact.
Self-awareness is important for leadership. Know your blind spots. Remember mistakes and learn from them. Do you lack these insights? Then try these free online tests Myers Briggs, DISC, and Strengthsfinder.
- Your Ability to Listen
True or deep listeners have the ability to listen intuitively to someone’s conversation while evaluating its true depth and meaning.
The good listener listens to discover “How can I help the other person?”
- Your Ability to Use Constructive Criticism
Ask for feedback and constructive criticism from everyone: Coworkers, subordinates, customers, and even friends. Ask that it be unfiltered and honest. Each criticism allows for self-growth and self-awareness.
Become A Confident Leader by Improving Competence
Notice how the three measures of competence above involve external sources, which help inform your internal self-assessment.
They provide the dose of objectivism you need to continue along the path of competent leadership and avoid the pitfalls of the Dunning-Kruger Effect.
As Bertrand Russell once said: “One of the painful things about our time is that those who feel certainty are stupid, and those with any imagination and understanding are filled with doubt and indecision.”
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