Pick One: Competence or Confidence?

Bruce Kasanoff

Ghostwriter of Few Words

This morning I used a LinkedIn update to ask, "Which is more important, competence or confidence?" My intention was to see whether men and women would answer differently. Here are the results as of about 1 p.m. EST:

In the back of my mind, I was expecting women to say "competence". Conventional wisdom - and many research studies - report that women have a tendency to underestimate not only their readiness for more responsibility but also their performance in general.

Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, writing in The Atlantic, put it this way:
Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities.

This afternoon, I published these results in another LinkedIn update and asked for comments. Here are three...

Frank Manzardo: At the risk of sounding sexist, I believe that women truly understand that to be successful they have to be confident to get through the blatant biases in corporate America...... and by the way - they typically are competent already to get where they are.

Shelley McArthur: I know I am competent, but how can I as a woman show confidence and not come off as self-serving since women have traditionally been in selfless roles and are not expected to have confidence? Maybe I am better off applying for jobs at woman-owned companies where feminine values are rewarded more often.

Michelle Lobdell: Confidence provides a pathway for creativity; it is my confidence in myself, my vision and the value I am creating that propels me forward when others would quit. Competence can be bought; I have found people to help me create my dream; but it is my confidence that is the catalyst for all of our collective forward movement.

In Harvard Business Review, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, professor at University College London, observed:
What we want to know is how competent others are. Confidence is a method or a path that most people tend to take (to get to that). But it leads to inaccurate evaluations of people’s competence–because the correlation between confidence and competence is very low.

Let's take his first point as a given: we want to know how competent others are. That is what matters. We want to hire and work with people who get stuff done.

At present, we often use confidence as a way to judge competence. Yes, it's a flawed metric, but it's a widely-used metric. It's also a metric that favors men, who - in general - tend to rate themselves higher than women rate themselves. It's also a metric that often causes men to look at women through the lens of their own belief structure (i.e. "you should act confidently").

This morning I gave a speech at the Global Women's Leadership Summit. I suggested that a short-term, personal fix may be for women to "calibrate" their own perceptions. That is, if you know that you tend to underestimate your own abilities and performance, then try to compensate for this tendency:
Rate your a bit higher performance than you think is warranted.
Ask - or fight - for more responsibility a little sooner than your instinct says to do.

No matter what anyone says, we are all human and we all experience fear. Some hide it better than others. Whether you are a man or a woman, don't let anything hide your ability to get stuff done.

Bruce Kasanoff ghostwrites social media articles for entrepreneurs.

He is the author of How to Self-Promote without Being a Jerk. His book is based around these words:

"Be generous and expert, trustworthy and clear, open-minded and adaptable, persistent and present."
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