Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s book ‘Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?’ suggests that we assume a correlation between confidence and competence that doesn’t exist. As a result, confident (and even over-confident) people end up in leadership roles. Hardwiring from our early roots dealing with ever present danger and the fight for survival may not be helpful in the 21st century. Tomas suggests that we take too much comfort from the confidence of our leaders even when we are dealing with highly complex situations that are beyond one person’s ability to navigate.
Our recent survey of attitudes to leadership in financial and professional services suggests that almost all leaders and a wider range of employees believe that exhibiting confidence is either important or very important in good leaders. And while over two thirds of leaders agreed or strongly agreed that good leaders need to exhibit vulnerability, just over one half of employees at large agreed or strongly agreed that good leaders should exhibit vulnerability. In some recent interviews with leaders in the investment industry, the tension between exhibiting confidence (despite not always feeling it internally) and showing vulnerability was very evident. A number expressed concern about showing too much vulnerability, in particular. Others felt that you needed to have a lot of real confidence to exhibit vulnerability.
This research highlights a real dilemma for leaders. On the one hand they want to be authentic leaders and they recognise that they don’t know all the answers. But at the same time they feel the need to exhibit confidence to bring others with them. Does humility come across as weakness? Does asking for help suggest lack of leadership qualities? For all the talk about new styles of leadership which empower others and which challenge the stereotype of the command and control approach to leadership, we still seem to crave the heroic leader who provides comfort in a world of uncertainty, exhibiting confidence and omniscience.
The project delves deeper into the impact of leadership on those in the workplace, the characteristics of good leadership and also investigates the differing perspective/believes of leaders versus those they influence. The project is led by Jane Welsh, Thomas Chalmers and Russell Borland. All participants are given the option to receive research findings from the programme and an invitation to future seminars.