It’s no secret that women are underrepresented in management roles, and there are a few common theories as to why. Some say women aren’t as competent as men, some believe women aren’t particularly interested in leadership positions, while some (read: us...and hopefully you, too) understand that women are capable of and interested in being managers, but the glass ceiling just. won’t. budge. A Harvard Business Review article questions whether all of these explanations are simply missing the point. “In my view, the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence,” writes Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. “Because we (people in general) commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence, we are fooled into believing that men are better leaders than women.”
Chamorro-Premuzic suggests that men are far more likely than women to exude “charisma or charm” that’s “mistaken for leadership potential.”
He may be onto something. You’ve probably heard that a frightening percentage of CEOs and other top leaders exhibit narcissistic or even psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies. Moreover, as Chamorro-Premuzic explains, “these personality characteristics are not equally common in men and women [and] leaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders. “The truth of the matter is that pretty much anywhere in the world men tend to think that they that are much smarter than women,” he continues. “Yet arrogance and overconfidence are inversely related to leadership talent — the ability to build and maintain high-performing teams, and to inspire followers to set aside their selfish agendas in order to work for the common interest of the group. Indeed, whether in sports, politics or business, the best leaders are usually humble — and whether through nature or nurture, humility is a much more common feature in women than men.”
Chamorro-Premuzic cites studies indicating that women tend to be more emotionally adept, sensitive, considerate and humble than men, while men have been found to be more arrogant, manipulative and risk-prone than women.
“The paradoxical implication is that the same psychological characteristics that enable male managers to rise to the top of the corporate or political ladder are actually responsible for their downfall,” he explains. “In other words, what it takes to get the job is not just different from, but also the reverse of, what it takes to do the job well. As a result, too many incompetent people are promoted to management jobs, and promoted over more competent people.”
Sounds about right. When you look at it this way, it’s not so surprising that so many leaders and businesses ultimately collapse. When the men in power are elected in large part because of our inability to distinguish between confidence and competence, they’re bound to fail -- or at least disappoint.
To fix this situation, we probably all need to make more of an effort to recognize which qualities actually signify effective leadership to ensure incompetent men don’t continue to bullshit their way to the top.