Guest Columns

Discerning between confidence and competence

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Jean Wendland Century Oak Center
Jean Wendland Century Oak Center

The Harvard Business Review spoke to an issue a few years ago that has concerned many of us in and out of healthcare for some time: “Why do so many incompetent men become leaders?” (Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, Aug 2013).

The focus of the article is why women don't become leaders on par with men. Are women not interested? (No.) Are they not capable? (No.) Are the unable to break the “glass ceiling?” (Maybe.)

We are often fooled by confidence masquerading as competence. We elect leaders who are full of bluster and promises, then they confess that their new job is harder than expected. We promote men to positions in corporations on the basis of their accomplishments, occasionally over-reported and under-substantiated, that are believed by the credulous and rarely investigated. As mentioned in the podcast “Pod Save America,” women are the substrate that holds our country together.

Though women are considered capable of many things, they are rarely considered as principals in the corporate world. This differs somewhat in healthcare. In our industry, women are directors of nursing, directors of rehab and administrators. But in larger healthcare corporations, the CEO, president, COO, and CFO positions are generally held by men.

Why? Are the manifestations of pride, confidence and charisma the things that fool us to promote only men to leadership? I recently attended a board meeting of highly competent individuals with advanced degrees and lengthy resumes. I was shocked to see the women in the group retreat and retract their valid contributions when the men had differing views. One woman, who is an author and a speaker, started every sentence with “I'm sorry, but I just have to say….” and ended with “…does that make sense?” This young lady could use some mentoring, namely that you are invalidating your opinion if you start by apologizing.

There is a study that shows that leaderless groups tend to hire self-centered and over-confident individuals to lead them. This tendency is not limited to men vs. women. However, in determining who to hire, which gender is more likely to display those traits?

Do men think they're smarter than women? Maybe. Do sometimes pride, confidence and charisma occur in an individual who deserves to be proud and confident? Sure. However, it's been my experience that the best leaders I have ever worked with are those who are humble and know their own strengths and limitations. But we don't tend to hire or promote leaders who broadcast their limitations. Think about Vladimir Putin and Steve Jobs. Both displayed leadership abilities, but one was more capable and proved to be a more beneficial and effective leader.

Women are not new to leadership. Queen Victoria, Joan of Arc, Indira Gandhi and my personal girl-crush: Angela Merkel. Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany, Leader of the Christian Democratic Union and one of the world's most powerful people. She also has a doctorate in physical chemistry, but that's secondary to her ability to govern a country, and possibly the European Union. She has well-deserved and well-documented pride, confidence and abilities. And she has never likely started a sentence with “I'm sorry, but…”

Where this takes us is a need to watch the women in your company. Foster their beliefs and abilities and don't let them secede their power and philosophy to a man who may overtake them on the basis of gender. Let your organization be the one that digs deep and doesn't marginalize and suppress their capabilities because they had the nerve to take a maternity leave (don't kid yourself, that happens). As Kathy Caprino said in Forbes: Conduct primary research at your workplace to uncover what is not working for women in the organization and follow it up by implementing new policies, procedures, effective training, education and programs for men and women.

Creating pathways for competent women to leadership in your organization requires commitment on all levels: Individual, corporate and global. Be the change you want to see in the world.

Jean Wendland Porter, PT, CCI, is the Regional Director of Therapy Operations at Diversified Health Partners in Ohio.

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Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.

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