Troubling and not uncommon is the exec or leader who “comes across so confident” and “so great” and who lacks the substance needed to guide others toward a collective good.
The data are overwhelming that from a career perspective, professionals are rewarded more on confidence and appearance than substance. Whether we’ve been bedazzled in the interview process and hired a dud, or seen someone with plenty of swagger fail their way to top jobs, it’s worth noticing and addressing confidence-bias in ourselves and others.
The heavy recent emphasis on confidence in executive leadership (e.g., “Gravitas” or “Executive Presence”), including my own articles on these topics, must be balanced with assessing and ensuring broader strengths in our leaders: subject knowledge, vision, critical thinking, emotional intelligence, self-awareness, results-orientation, and integrity.
When considering this confidence-without-substance problem, finding examples in the political arena is like shooting fish in a barrel. Consider Bush-era Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s classic turn-of-phrase on the zero-yield search for weapons of mass destruction as justification for the US invasion of Iraq: “Absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.” How compelling! How confident! And how not grounded in knowledge and integrity.
So few people have deep and enduring confidence, and (particularly in a crisis) so many are drawn to it, that it’s easy to be misled by it.
To avoid this, it’s incumbent on those of us in positions to select, support, hire, promote, and even vote for leaders not to be overly enchanted or swayed by calm confidence when other qualities are lacking – we must avoid confusing swagger with substance or integrity.
If we keep clear about the distinction between confidence and substance, and promote equally the value of the latter, then we increase the likelihood that the world will continue to evolve into something better.