“There is a pathological mismatch between the attributes that seduce us in a leader and those that are needed to be an effective leader” – I heard this in a recent Ted Talk on male leadership, and it sparked some thoughts on the matter.

Confidence is often viewed as a desirable quality in leaders, as it can inspire and motivate teams. However, it is essential to recognise that confidence alone does not equate to competence. While confident leaders may be charismatic and entertaining, their actual ability to effectively lead and deliver results should be evaluated based on their competence.

Our love for narcissistic, charismatic individuals goes across all industries. And there is no exception when it comes to leaders, but why do we favour these traits over knowledge, expertise, and competence, and what should we focus on to make a change?

Confidence Vs Competence

Leaders who rely solely on confidence may overpromise and underdeliver, creating unrealistic team expectations. The inability to back up their confident demeanour with tangible skills and knowledge can erode trust and credibility over time. Furthermore, leaders prioritising self-assurance over competence may make hasty decisions without considering the long-term consequences, potentially harming the organisation and its members.

On the other hand, a competent leader possesses a deep understanding of their industry, the challenges their organisation faces, and the skills required to overcome those challenges. Competent leaders are not afraid to admit when they don’t have all the answers and seek advice or input from subject matter experts, recognising that true leadership is not about having all the solutions but knowing how to find them.

A leader who is both confident and competent can inspire trust and provide clear direction while also possessing the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate complex challenges. This balance allows leaders to make informed decisions, effectively communicate their vision, and motivate their teams towards success. A confident leader who is also competent will earn respect and loyalty, ensuring long-term success.

What can we do to improve leaders?

As well as leaders striving for a balance between confidence and competence, how about looking at who appoints the leader?

We should improve our judgement and competence when selecting leaders. This can be done by focusing on the must-have traits of leaders rather than on the impressions made by them. We must value competence, integrity and humility in our leaders and strive to have these attributes ourselves. Great leaders are also humble, empathetic and care for the people.

If we want to improve the quality of our leaders, it means not giving opportunity when there is no talent to back it up, instead choosing the leader based on their experience, talents, and integrity. This can be applied to many situations; for example, we shouldn’t lower standards when we select female leaders because of gender bias. Giving everyone an equal chance in recruitment and promotion is essential, and this is clearly done by focusing on competence, not only confidence.

This is sound advice for recruiters to keep in mind not only when headhunting but when interviewing and putting candidates forward for roles. Here at Orange Malone, we strive constantly to improve our recruitment processes and ourselves as a team.

If you are interested in our services, head here: https://orangemalone.com/

For more on the Ted Talk mentioned: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeAEFEXvcBg.