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Why don't we choose the right leaders?

Being unaware of your limitations and shortcomings makes you more likely to be a leader, and those people are more likely to be men. So why do we tend to pick these people as leaders?

  1. Inability to distinguish between confidence and competence. Across cultures, we associate confidence with a greater potential for leadership, however there is very little overlap between confidence (how good people think they are at something) and competence (how good they actually are).

  2. Our love of charismatic characters – we want leaders who are charming and entertaining, however those traits don’t necessarily make them better leaders.

  3. The allure of narcissistic personalities – they tap into our own narcissism. This breeds leaders who are unaware of their limitations, and who indulge in unnecessary risks. This type of leadership lacks empathy and self-control, and ends up acting without integrity and indulges more frequently in reckless risks.

So how do we hire more effective leaders?

  1. Overcome our own bias toward charisma, narcissism, and overconfidence – and improve our competence at selecting leaders.

  2. Look for values like: Competence, Humility, and Integrity – all values which women tend to score higher than men in.

Take Away

Despite having clear implications for gender disparities in leadership, the way forward shows an approach that is values-based: emphasising values that make more effective leaders, while understanding our own bias toward values that simply make someone more likely to become a leader. Making that switch will drastically affect the proportion of female vs male leaders.

Hopefully as we improve our awareness of the factors affecting who we promote into positions of power, we will start to make better informed, thoughtful decisions. Being aware of these biases may be the first step, but we’ll need more practical strategies to close the gap between the number of female and male leaders...


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