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Distinguishing Between Confidence and Competence: Identifying Incompetent Leaders

In today's dynamic and competitive business environment, the need for effective leadership has never been more critical. However, the prevalence of incompetent leaders in positions of authority is a concerning issue. To address this problem, it is vital for those responsible for evaluating and selecting leaders to enhance their ability to differentiate between confidence and competence. Fortunately, there are scientifically valid assessments available that can predict and help avoid managerial and leadership incompetence. Despite the presence of these tools, it is disheartening to note that only a few organizations utilize them.

Identifying Leadership Style and Competence

Individual differences in how people present themselves play a significant role in predicting their leadership style and overall competence. Through the use of self-report questionnaires administered to thousands of leaders, it is possible to establish patterns of self-presentation that distinguish between good and bad leaders. These patterns provide valuable insights into the leadership capabilities of individuals. However, the challenge lies in the lack of widespread adoption and utilization of these assessments within organizations.

The Consequences of Incompetent Leadership

Incompetent leaders can have detrimental effects on organizations. Their lack of ability to effectively lead, make informed decisions, and inspire their teams can lead to decreased productivity, increased turnover, and a negative work culture. These leaders often prioritize their own interests over the success of the organization, leading to a decline in overall performance. Identifying and avoiding such leaders is crucial for organizational success and growth.

Examples of Incompetent Leadership

To illustrate the importance of distinguishing between confidence and competence, let us consider two hypothetical scenarios:

  1. The Overconfident Micromanager: Imagine a leader who exudes confidence and charisma, leading others to believe in their abilities. However, upon closer examination, it becomes evident that this leader lacks the necessary expertise in their field. They resort to micromanagement, stifling creativity and autonomy within their team. Despite their self-assured demeanor, their inability to delegate effectively and trust their team members ultimately hampers productivity and morale.

  2. The Passive-Aggressive Leader: In another case, we encounter a leader who presents a facade of competence but struggles with assertiveness and conflict resolution. This leader avoids making difficult decisions and resorts to passive-aggressive behavior. Their inability to address conflicts directly and provide clear guidance leads to confusion and frustration among team members. This ineffective communication style hinders collaboration and impedes progress.

The Importance of Utilizing Scientific Assessments

The availability of scientifically valid assessments to evaluate leadership competence provides organizations with a powerful tool to identify potential incompetent leaders. By utilizing these assessments, organizations can gain insights into an individual's leadership style, performance, and effectiveness. This information enables them to make more informed decisions regarding leadership placements, ensuring that competent individuals are entrusted with positions of authority.

Encouraging Organizational Adoption

It is essential for organizations to recognize the importance of utilizing these assessments and integrating them into their selection and development processes. HR professionals and leaders must champion the implementation of these tools, emphasizing their positive impact on organizational performance and culture. By embracing scientific assessments, organizations can reduce the prevalence of incompetent leaders and foster a culture of excellence and effective leadership.


Distinguishing between confidence and competence is crucial in identifying incompetent leaders and avoiding the negative consequences associated with their appointment. Scientifically valid assessments provide organizations with valuable insights into an individual's leadership style and competence. By utilizing these tools, organizations can make more informed decisions, ensuring that competent leaders are entrusted with positions of authority. It is imperative for organizations to embrace these assessments and prioritize the development of effective leadership to drive success and growth in today's competitive business landscape.


Jonathan H. Westover, PhD is Chief Academic & Learning Officer (HCI Academy); Chair/Professor, Organizational Leadership (UVU); OD Consultant (Human Capital Innovations). Read Jonathan Westover's executive profile here.



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