Sally Helgesen, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic

Business scholar Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic demonstrates, women’s confidence almost always aligns with their level of competence — or falls below it — which is not usually the case with men, especially at leadership levels. This is true primarily because the number of overconfident men tends to be relatively high. And overconfidence, and the assertiveness it engenders, can be extremely helpful to someone pursuing a senior position, where unquestioning self-belief often translates as charisma, mastery, and drive: in sum, the qualities of a leader.

By contrast, competence, which Chamorro-Premuzic notes is actually the chief factor in determining how successful a leader will be, tends to get swept aside when hiring managers are dazzled by a candidate’s self-assurance. This penalizes competent men and women alike, but is especially punishing for women when it comes to being considered for top jobs, because they are less likely to radiate unwavering self-belief and so are more likely to be assessed as “merely” competent.

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Indeed, Chamorro-Premuzic observes that organizations and search committees would do well to view overconfidence as a warning sign that someone will turn out to be a poor leader: immune to feedback, resistant to change, and unlikely to consult others when making key decisions. He notes that if organizations were to place greater value on competence, women would face fewer barriers to advancement and organizations would be less subject to instability and flameouts.

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