Highly confident versus highly competent

I’ve previously held C-level positions and been in charge of a staff roster of over 100 people, and when you get to around 10 staff, you’ll very quickly start to see relationship dynamics and fractions start to form.

I don’t believe office politics can entirely avoided, but the right hires and hiring with very clear vetting certainly helps.

As a leader you need to focus on deliverables and as such you need to hire based on people who are not only capable or delivering results, but also willing to deliver those results.


The hard part is knowing the difference between highly enthusiastic or confident, versus highly capable – the adage ‘never judge a book by its cover’ comes to mind. Too often senior staff can get blinded by over enthusiastic positive personalities, just because they see opportunity doesn’t mean they have the ability or know-how to achieve it. Just because someone believes in your vision doesn’t mean they know how to help you achieve it, this is where bravado, and overconfidence can create the illusion of competence.

As a leader, its your job to filter the over confident and find the competent.  As an OPs guy, I’ve strived to understand the ‘how’ of teams that i lead, what do they do, how do they do it. When i lead a team of programmers, i try and learn some basic programming. When i lead designers i try and understand their design process. Even a rudimentary level of understanding will give you enough that when you interview and assess candidates you’ll be able to see if they are simply overstating their abilities or if they actually know their craft.

Simple interview questions that highlight HOW they would get things done make all the difference between selecting the overconfident candidate that will appear capable over the competent one that will help you deliver results.

Here’s an example interview question i’ve used for a digital strategy candidate- “where do you see digital ads progress? and how would you go about tracking and assessing the validity of the data?”

this question can really only be answered by someone who has a reasonable understanding of both digital ad landscape (strategy capabilities) and tracking/ anti-fraud solutions (reasonable technical capabilities) . The “how” element in the question is the clincher – their answer here tells you their thinking process and how much they actually know.

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