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  • Writer's pictureChuck Cusumano

Confidence = Competence

By Chuck Cusumano and Jillian Broaddus

This statement may not be correct, but it is accurate!

In our American society – and arguably in much of the world – when an organization or individual presents themselves in a confident manner, they are judged to be competent. We assume if they are sure of themselves or the topic they are discussing, then they must know what they are talking about! In many ways, it makes sense because the reverse of this statement is how most of us operate on a daily level. We learn, practice, and put in the effort so that we can become competent in a given skill or process. Whether it be a sport, a job, or a body of work, once we know what we are doing at a high level, we can then project confidence when we speak or perform in that area. Why? Well for most of us, we only become confident once we feel or are judged to be competent.

Think about this example: a person has completed all classes in a college degree program. They have studied, learned, and passed all the requirements to be awarded a 4-year bachelor’s degree – except that it is determined a mistake was made by the student and one of their classes does not count for their specific program because they changed majors. Therefore, they are never awarded the degree. Without a diploma, is this person any less competent in their abilities to learn and process information? Are they less competent to do the job they are interviewing for? We would say no; they are not. However, we believe you can see how this individual may not come across as confident in an interview knowing that they did not get the actual degree. The competency is the same, but the confidence is not. One class does not make the individual more or less competent, but how they present themselves does give that impression.

In her book, Presence, Amy Cutty shares her ground-breaking research that shows that we not only subconsciously telegraph what we are thinking and feeling in our mind to our non-verbal body language, BUT if we consciously put our bodies in the non-verbal positions that we want to think and feel, we will take on those thoughts and feelings! So, it makes sense that if someone comes across as very confident in what they are saying, they MUST be competent!

This is one of the techniques magicians use. They are so convincing that you do not believe your own eyes. You allow your mind to override what you are really seeing because the magician plays off of your bias (confidence) that you know what normally takes place and fills that gap in information in when it really did not happen. This is also how a Ponzi scheme can succeed: the person is so confident that you are willing to invest even when it seems too good to be true!

Why does any of this matter? Well, most events in life have some type of interview associated with them. And if you cannot ‘win’ the interview, then you can not easily proceed! A chance encounter with someone you are instantly attracted to is an interview. A first date is an interview. Tryouts for sports teams or auditions for plays are interviews. Shark tank pitch = an interview! Any speech, debate, or town-hall meeting – all interviews for a candidate with the electorate. Swipe right, swipe left – interviews! Our society is judging us all the time. Some of us are in a constant state of being interviewed. If you are in sales, you are always being interviewed. So understanding how to be proficient and successful in the interview process is more than a job skill; it is a necessary life skill! And conversely, understanding when someone is not really competent but seems that way because they are coming across as confident is a survival skill. We need to know what is true and what is just an illusion to avoid being taken advantage of.

There may not be a better time than March Madness to understand this principle. (Have you filled out your bracket yet?) Which teams are playing with confidence and which teams are really just faking it? And then there are always the “Cinderella story” teams! They are the Amy Cutty teams: George Mason in 2006, Davidson in 2008, and Butler in 2010 and 2011! Some of the highest-confidence teams in history of the tournament include N.C. State in 1983, LSU in 1986, and our personal favorite (even though they did not get past Sweet 16) is the Florida Gulf Coast ‘Dunk City’ team that was a 15th seed in 2013.

What do all of these teams have in common? Confidence! They may not be the most skilled or competent teams in the tournament, but someone forgot to tell them that! And then they start to win, even when they are not as skilled or competent as some of the top-seated teams! This is how momentum is built. And because they are playing with confidence, they become competent! Which team plays with more heart? Which team BELIEVES they are winners? It is almost impossible to win the tournament if you do not believe. If you do not have confidence, then no amount of competence will carry you to the finals.

And so it is with most things in life. You have to believe…

Believe in yourself.

Believe in your product.

Believe in your company.

Believe in your abilities.

Believe in your children.

Believe in your employees.

Believe in those that you love.

Without this belief, you will never fully develop to your fullest potential.

Sure, there needs to be a baseline of skills and competencies, but once you have met the baseline, it is more important for you to work on the skill of being confident rather than trying to be competent. If you don’t believe us, just watch what happens with your bracket! In a few weeks, we will review with you the steps to take and the skills that lead to building confidence! If you need help before then, just give us a shout at and we are confident we can show you or your organization how to get there!

“Confidence = Competence, it may not be correct but it sure is accurate!” – Chuck Cusumano

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