Are you confident that you’re competent?

As a result of the collapse of his former employer (Lehman Brothers), one of my clients, a senior investment banker, found himself out of a job.  He was looking to re-orient himself and part of our work together involved challenging whether investment banking genuinely played to his strengths, or whether he had ‘fallen in to it’.  After much discussion and assessment, it turns out that he had chosen a vocation that did suit his skill-set, and he now enjoys leading a private wealth management boutique.

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to be in a job that they enjoy and that matches their skills, and not everyone is truly playing to their strengths: they may have simply convinced themselves that they are, because the reality is too much to acknowledge.  This is dangerous, as it will mean that – not only is their work life unfulfilling – but they may find themselves ignoring the signs of burnout that have been creeping up on them for the last few months…

It has been ten years since David Dunning and Justin Kruger published their seminal research differentiating between “confidence” and “competence” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In essence, the Dunning-Kruger effect describes the symptoms exhibited by individuals who are not competent in a particular area.  Two primary symptoms identified by their research were 1) overestimating their own level of talent and skill, and 2) failing to recognize genuine skill in others.  As a consequence of these misconceptions, they struggle with recognizing the extremity of their inadequacy and the effect becomes ever more severe as they notice that their professional life feels like a struggle, and they are uncertain as to where this lack of fulfillment is coming from.

Viewed through the lens of positive psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect takes on a different meaning.  Strength-based coaching requires the objective identification of relative strengths: the coach is a thought partner, who (as a trusted collaborator) constructively challenges the client, and brings clarity to their ‘profile of strengths’.  While this process entails taking stock of our weaknesses as well, it does so only to cultivate a career strategy that will allow us to leverage our strengths and passions to the best possible effect.

With the confidence that this knowledge brings, you truly have a chance to excel and enjoy your success – or, to put it differently: you can be confident that you are competent!