Success, irrespective of how you personally define it, is quite elusive. We frequently reference the importance of competence in a broad range of skills as a path to success; unfortunately, all too often, we ignore a much more integral component: confidence.
As I frequently do in my writing, I’d like to introduce caricatures that capture the extremes of these traits to present my thesis: persistent, repeatable success can only come from the convergence of confidence and competence. Below are four characters that represent the cross-product of those two dimensions.
1. The Dull Do-Nothing: Un-confident Incompetent
At their best, Dull Do-Nothings are innocuous: they persist in the background concerned about being discovered. At their worst, these less-than-competent folks create busy work that defines their niche domain. What should these folks do to get out of their rut? The sensible but elusive answer is clear: increase competence through learning and training; over time, confidence can come naturally as competence increases.
2. The Cocky Coach: Confident Incompetent
At their worst, Cocky Coaches can lure an organization off of a cliff with their misguided confidence. This dangerous combination, at its extreme, can be perceived to have leadership qualities thanks to their exaggerated levels of confidence. Because of this, Cocky Coaches tend to make it to positions of power over time and ultimately end up coaching others despite their lack of competence. Unfortunately, it’s tough to get out of this quadrant on one’s own because most Cocky Coaches aren’t aware they lack competence; they truly believe they’re capable and, because they believe in themselves, they tend to do well despite it all. Given this catch-22, it’s the responsibility of the Cocky Coach’s manager to save the day by guiding and curbing their enthusiasm, and better aligning their confidence.
3. The Backroom Breadwinner: Un-confident Competent
Backroom Breadwinners are the workhorses of any organization: they work hard in the background, lacking the confidence it takes to be at the forefront of recognition; thus, they frequently get overlooked for positions of power. The only way out of this is to recognize one’s lack of confidence and to work on developing it with the help of a supportive manager and coach. Once again, the Backroom Breadwinner’s manager must step in to help them grow; this is easier said than done because, frequently, the manager realizes how hard Backroom Breadwinners are to replace and are therefore incented to retain them in their role.
4. The Ambitious Achiever: Confident Competent
Finally, we get to the unicorns: The Ambitious Achievers. I can honestly and bluntly say that, in my experience, these constitute less than 10% of any organization, and usually less than 5%. Ambitious Achievers have struck a healthy balance between competence and confidence with the latter rising just ahead of the former. They have the competence of the Backroom Breadwinners with the confidence of the Cocky Coaches, a remarkably unique and valuable convergence of traits that inevitably results in their consistent success. If you’re one of these people, you know it; if you’re one of these people, you are humble. If you’re one of these people, it’s incumbent on you to help the others when you’re in a position to do so.