Why Competence Always Loses out to Confidence

I was part of an interesting conversation the other day. A good friend and her friend were discussing the recent spate of layoffs in the education department in Abu Dhabi. He moaned and she bitched while I erm’d and ah’d.

As with all bitch fests the conversation turned to who was doing what to whom and why. 

“I have NO idea how she got the promotion over me. I’m MUCH more qualified than she is. She MUST be sleeping with someone!” 

I usually let the conversation drone on a bit before throwing in a much needed pinch of salt to aid all that bitterness.

“Well maybe she has more confidence in herself than you do.” 

Wait a beat….

“CONFIDENCE! No one gets promoted on confidence!”

“(Gasp!) No, he’s just as confident as she is, maybe more so! You are!”

 Let’s take a look at the dictionary definition of confidence shall we? 

This friend of a friend definitely did not ooze the dictionary definition in his abilities. The fact that he moaned and bitched about a position he felt he was entitled to just because he had book smarts, was telling. I could pinpoint at least a few reasons he’d been passed over for the promotion: 

  • He was slovenly, often turning up to work looking unwashed.
  • He spoke with a loud mewling tone.
  • He smelled oily.
  • He often used expletives in a professional setting.
  • He demanded praise instead of earning it.
  • He spoke about his, yours, his mother’s, his sister’s and everyone else’s personal business as nauseam. 
  • He often got loud and combative during disagreements.
  • He played with his overly long hair when nervous.

Here lies the rub : all the book smarts in the world is not going to help your progress if you didn’t take the time to build your confidence along the way as well. 

I’ve been in the position before. I worked at a well known retail clothing store in South Africa during my years as a college student. I was good at what I did. I enjoyed the work. I pulled my weight as part of a diverse team. 

It wasn’t enough. After being passed over for the third consecutive promotion, I had a long talk with HR. It turned out my lack of confidence was noted at every evaluation. I knew what I was doing, I just couldn’t convince anyone else I knew what I was doing. People second guessed me, ignored my suggestions during meetings and generally ignored me as well. 

Instead of bemoaning my fate I decided to study the one person who was being promoted each and every time a position opened up. He was a few years older than me, didn’t have the qualifications and experience I did but had something about him. 

People were drawn to him. They listened when he talked. He wasn’t super good looking, he just had that aura about him. I looked, listened and learned. 

Pay attention, this is what I picked up:

  1. He was always impeccably dressed, even on Casual Fridays.
  2. He was well groomed and smelled great.
  3. His posture was always good.
  4. He spoke deliberately. Not rushed, not monotonously, but with measured patterns.
  5. He never spoke when someone else was speaking and stopped altogether if someone spoke over him. In fact he said, ” I’m not quite done” in such a way the transgressors apologized. Profusely. 
  6. He didn’t fiddle too much with his hands or gesticulate too much when he talked.
  7. He used eye contact without looking creepy.
  8. He walked as if he owned the store, entered the room as if everyone had been waiting for him.
  9. He circulated and didn’t do clicks.
  10. He knew who the major players were and namedropped shamelessly. 

Within a month of watching, learning and practicing in my bathroom mirror, I was ready to give a presentation on improving company culture. I nailed it and was promoted to Head of Training and Development. Why? 

I followed the 5 Golden Rules:

  1. Never undermine yourself. Don’t deny your abilities.
  2. Accept praise as your due. Acknowledge it generously.
  3. Don’t forget your team. Give credit where it’s due and you’ll have guaranteed loyalty.
  4. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
  5. Keep your personal stuff personal. 

I never forgot the lessons I learned so long ago. I think the main takeaway here is:

If you don’t act like you have confidence in yourself and your abilities, why should anyone else?

The benefits of having a strong sense of self confidence are plentiful. 

  • People perceive you as trustworthy and reliable.
  • People see you as a natural leader and often defer to you.
  • Your opinion is courted and often quoted.
  • Your personal brand( more on this in next week’s blogposts) is stronger because of self confidence.
  • Your brand becomes associated with quality and that bestows perceived value and status to you as a personal brand.

Why not give it a shot? What have you got to lose? 

What do you think? Does confidence beat competence? What is your experience? Let me know in the comments.

Until next I blog, 



13 thoughts on “Why Competence Always Loses out to Confidence

    1. True confidence is not arrogance. It’s knowing your worth and acting like it. People who don’t often mistake this for arrogance. Thanks for taking the time to read and respond. Much appreciated. 🙌🏼

      Liked by 1 person

  1. This was so meant for me. First off you killed me with your choice of words”bitch fest” ahs and jahs. It is always fun reading your blogs.

    This was meant for me because I have been dealing with an internal bitch fest. I live in Sandton now and making the effort to call home in Cape Town is such a mission. No one picks up at the peek of my fumes. So I am just like forget it I will sulk for the next few days and then get over myself.

    I have been senior in my position for nearly 4 years still earning the same salary since I started. I am training new staff that earns a R1000 more than me. Finding another job I haven’t been winning. My HR Manager hasn’t bothered to respond to my email. I can do more than a lot of the people in my office space. but you know what the fudge here I am in the same old financial boat.

    However reading this post was such a wake up call like I could use this time to study the people around me and better myself for when the opportunity avails itself.

    I literally bookmarked this post just so that I can have a read through it again at home. Cause this hasn’t totally sink in yet but the timing couldn’t be more perfect for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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