Confidently Wrong

In doing extensive research for their book, The Confidence Code, authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman found an answer that may be troubling to some:

"Perhaps most striking of all, we found that success correlates more closely with confidence than it does with competence. Yes, there is evidence that confidence is more important than ability when it comes to getting ahead."

One of the most common questions that comes up whenever we deliver our Fight Your Confidence Killers workshop is related to the relationship between showing up confidently, and being competent. We often get questions or comments like:

  • I show up confidently when I know I have the right answer or the best idea.
  • If I’m not sure of what to do next, how can I be confident?
  • Someone who’s confident and wrong looks like they don’t know what they’re talking about.
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My response, whenever this comes up, is that being right and being confident are so completely different that we need to disassociate the two if we ever hope to generate a reputation of confidence and self-assuredness.

Here’s why…

Confidence grows out of a sense of self-worth. We are confident when we know our contributions are worthwhile and our point of view relevant. We help each other be confident by acknowledging value in others, and we can (quite effectively, I might add) fake confidence simply by demonstrating and projecting the ways and means of confident people. The key distinction here, though, is that we don’t have to be RIGHT for our contributions to be worthwhile. Our value is so much broader than that - maybe we’re great at coming up with ideas or driving a timeline or sticking to a budget or generating interest… the list goes on and on, and being RIGHT isn’t even really on it!

Being right is just about whether or not you have the right information at the right moment. Many great leaders aren’t “right.” They rely on their teams for that. Think about the famous leaders, or big-ticket CEOs… they have a team of advisors who themselves have teams of advisors, and somewhere down the line is someone who actually know the nitty gritty details and can tell you the “right” answer to things. Instead, great leaders are confident. They use the information and resources at their disposal to make decisions, and then confidently move in that direction. If something comes up where, oops, that wasn’t the best decision, they pivot, own their mistakes, and confidently move forward again. They know that their value doesn’t derive from their correctness.

To bring that home, let’s take an example from our personal stories. Kara and I are business owners. We’ve been working in the world of influence, organizational change, and leadership for a long time, and we know a lot of things… but we most definitely do not know everything there is to know in the world about those topics. Just recently a workshop participant shared a piece of research on gendered communication that we can consider integrating into our POV on women and confidence in the workplace. We didn’t apologize or take a step back because someone had something to add or enhance our programs. We said thank you.

Every day we continue to learn, and so do our competitors in the marketplace. That can be true and we can wholeheartedly believe that we have a lot to offer to our clients. We are confident that we can help them, and that confidence is what gets us our contracts.

What’s important to point out is the confidence isn’t bull-headedness. People can be confident and own their mistakes, admit when they were wrong, take responsibility for their prior misgivings, listen to others, and adapt. The next time you find your confidence waver because you don’t feel competent or right, think about disassociating your rightness from your personal self-worth, and see how that changes the way you show up in the world.

How do you show up confidently when you don’t have all the answers?

-- Stephanie Judd, Cofounder, wolf & heron