Tuesday, May 9, 2017
Back in 2013, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote Why Do So Many Incompetent Men Become Leaders? on the Harvard Business Law Review site. He argues,
the main reason for the uneven management sex ratio is our inability to discern between confidence and competence. That is, 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. In other words, when it comes to leadership, the only advantage that men have over women (e.g., from Argentina to Norway and the USA to Japan) is the fact that manifestations of hubris — often masked as charisma or charm — are commonly mistaken for leadership potential, and that these occur much more frequently in men than in women.
He further notes that the qualities that the same traits that often lead to a male manager to get hired (i.e., be perceived as a leader) are the characteristics that get in the way of being an effective and successful leader. ( "[L]eaderless groups have a natural tendency to elect self-centered, overconfident and narcissistic individuals as leaders, and that these personality characteristics are not equally common in men and women.") Thus, because we mistake confidence for competence, we pass up a lot of good people (and hire the wrong people). These mistakes apply to both men and women, but Chamorro-Premuzic notes that (by nature and/or nurture) women are less likely to have those traits.
there is no denying that women’s path to leadership positions is paved with many barriers including a very thick glass ceiling. But a much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men, and the fact that we tend to equate leadership with the very psychological features that make the average man a more inept leader than the average woman. The result is a pathological system that rewards men for their incompetence while punishing women for their competence, to everybody’s detriment.
This is true, but I would also note that it's also likely that the women who get hired because of the traditional traits he describes are also less likely to be successful. Most leaders, he notes fail, whether in politics or business: "Good leadership has always been the exception, not the norm."
This suggests that people doing the hiring (or voting) would be well served to change their criteria for assessing talent and quality, at least in some ways. We simply can't keep using the same inputs and be surprised we keep getting the same outputs. If we change our inputs, there is a good chance that we will have a greater diversity of leaders (particularly increasing the numbers of women) and may, in fact, choose more successful leaders. It seems to me worth a try.