Match Your Confidence To Competence

Prior to writing this article, I penned down two others viz.: “5 Self-Confidence Boosting Secrets” and “Over Confidence – A Silent Killer back in February 2020 and March 2021 respectively. Now I feel that we should reflect on what other attributes are needed alongside Confidence.  Have you ever had a colleague becoming your boss, who according to you, lacks talent, ability, and work ethic? While you were busy doing a good job, others seem to be advancing much faster in their careers. What skills do they have that you lack? What went wrong?

The answer in many cases is your contributions are not being registered and recognized by your supervisor. One important reason this happens is that people are simply not great at assessing competence — a crucial trait for succeeding at work — and perceptions of competence are just as important for success as actual competence. But don’t results mostly speak for themselves? The short answer is: “They don’t”, even when it’s all about numbers. You sit there and silently seethe, as you grow accustomed to answering to a lesser professional. It’s your fault. In the battle between competence and confidence, the latter wins nearly every time. For all of you who believe that competence is everything, read carefully:

What is Confidence?

In fewer words, confidence is a belief in oneself, the conviction that one has the ability to meet life’s challenges and to succeed—and the willingness to act accordingly. Being confident requires a realistic sense of one’s capabilities and feeling secure in that knowledge. Projecting confidence helps people gain credibility, make a strong first impression, deal with pressure, and tackle personal and professional challenges. It’s also an attractive trait, as confidence helps put others at ease.

What is Competence?

Competence means that I have the ability to do something well. I am capable of performing a task or job effectively. Competence can include the knowledge and skills needed to solve a quadratic equation. Or, it can comprise the much larger and more diverse clusters of skills, or competencies, needed to lead. The concept of competence is creeping into our lives, pervading our thinking about developing people of all ages. We find it in corporate HR and in innovative schools experimenting with competency-based career pathing and education.

What to look for: Confidence or Competence?

 If we decide to hire someone to lead an important business segment at our workplace, chances are we will choose the most confident candidate. Their confidence will inspire and motivate us to achieve greater milestones. That’s what makes them a great leader, right? But there is a darker side to confidence that erodes trust and turns away once eager followers. That side is the overconfidence that is considered arrogance.

Competence is NOT enough

It is nearly impossible to earn a position of great responsibility without being highly confident. Would you feel safe in the care of a physician who is simply jumping and dancing all over the hospital and making tall claims without enough competence? Or on the contrary, a physician who doubts his or her own judgment? Of course not.

The same is true for those who make decisions about whom to promote. Why give responsibility to someone who lacks confidence or competence in the first place? While writing this part of the article, I can already read those of you who disagree, saying competence is everything. The truth is, I somehow agree with these statements. But competence isn’t enough. To those of you who believe you are highly competent but admit that you also lack confidence, I have one thing to tell you:

Build Confidence, Whatever it takes

It is irrational to simultaneously believe you are more competent than a colleague but act less confident than s/he does. It is irrational to be proud of your performance but hesitant to act that way. It is irrational to allow less-qualified professionals to have more responsibility than you do, simply because you don’t feel comfortable holding your head up high. Make no mistake, without confidence, much of your competence will go down the drain.

It’s time to make certain that doesn’t happen to you in your careers. Build your confidence, no matter what the price. The world needs more people who are both confident and competent, and I know one thing for certain:

Incompetent confident people are never going to get more competent. If you are competent, it’s up to YOU to grow more confident.

Strike a Right Balance Between the Two

1.    Engage in self-assessment

Let’s spend quality time with ourselves in self-evaluating our skillset, knowledge base, strengths, and weaknesses regularly; this will enable us to make more informed decisions and identify areas for improvement and growth. Remember: Stagnation stinks.

2.    Seek Feedback

Let’s have someone by our side (parents, spouse, siblings, friends) who could share genuine, valuable insight into our personality i.e., positives, negatives, and performance, and identify areas of improvement by way of openly criticise us.

  1. Pursue lifelong learning

Personally, I devote 5% of my earnings to new learning efforts each year. Whether that is through formal education, workshops, online courses, or self-directed study, one should always be looking to expand his/her knowledge base and skill set.

4.    Set SMART Goals

Let’s always raise our own bar and keep doing that periodically. Have ambitious, yet attainable SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Bound) goals for ourselves that should reflect an honest assessment of our abilities and challenges.

5.    Adopt a Growth Mindset

Understand that our skills and abilities are not fixed –  we can, and we shall develop them over time through dedication and persistence. Through employing these strategies, we can build both confidence and competence to promote an achievable path to long-term success.

Competence Before Confidence – Conclusion

One common misconception about great athletes and performers is that we often overestimate their level of confidence. We assume because of how skilled and experienced they are that they must feel supreme confidence. But this is far from true. Some performers never feel real confidence. Some performers are so plagued by self-doubt and performance anxieties and insecurities that they cannot feel confident before and when they are performing.

Yet they can still produce exceptional performance despite not feeling confident. How are they capable of this? Because they focus on competence instead confidence. So to help feel more confident, focus on just getting better. How? As Gareth Bale tells us: Through the right amount of high-quality practice. After all, as detailed in an excellent article by Practice Makes Permanent.


Muhammad Sajwani
Muhammad Sajwani
Muhammad Sajwani is a management consultant and a corporate trainer working in the capacity of Managing Director, Evolve HR Consulting. Muhammad is amongst the prominent management practitioners in Pakistan and brings along thirty years of local & international experience as a practitioner of Appreciative Inquiry philosophy. His ability to relate with people from diverse backgrounds and occupations is his core strength. He is a leading inspirational speaker and change catalyst specializing in unleashing the human genius through Leadership, Creativity and Change Management. As a facilitator he is able to excite peoples’ imagination and inspires them to strive for extraordinary achievements. He encourages participants to focus on their ability to become what they desire by leveraging the power of human passion that is guided by a set of principles, values and ethics. His uncanny intuitive capacity helps him recognize team dynamics and build synergies. This has made him a sought after trainer for ‘Team building’ programs. Muhammad has been instrumental in helping organizations come to terms with organizational changes like right-sizing and business process re-engineering. His innovative approach & high personal competence encourages people to not only accept change, but also to excel in it. Over the years, Muhammad has developed many branded training products which can be customized to meet specific requirements of companies operating in different countries & cultures. Muhammad has diverse experience in conducting strategic & management development programs, conferences & events for organizations across sectors. Muhammad has been engaged as senior consultant and facilitator with a multitude of for-profit and not-for profit entities such as Aga Khan Development Network, Hospitality companies, Medical Institutions & many others. Muhammad Sajwani holds an MBA in Marketing and has worked for finest organization within and outside Pakistan i.e. Telenor, Jazz and Grameenphone, and travelled extensively & regularly attends courses in Pakistan & abroad.

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