Why do so many incompetent men become leaders

Though a couple of years old, I still sometimes share this article in HBR with some of my coaching clients. In it, the author proposes an alternative perspective on the persistent under-representation of women in management. In my own gender work in iNGOs, I too hear these thee popular explanations for this serious issue that undermines organizational performance:  (1) there are no capable women; (2) they are not interested; (3) they are both interested and capable but unable to break the glass-ceiling. But what if a (big) part of the explanation isn’t women-centric, but more related to how we view leadership?

The author argues that the main reason for the under-representation of women in management is because many of us confuse confidence with competence. “Because people 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“.

There are some strong statements in this article, which may ruffle some (masculine) feathers here and there. It questions basic perceptions around effective leadership and challenges long-held (but rarely articulated) assumptions about what makes an effective leader. Maybe that’s not a bad thing…



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