Seeking Conscious Leaders: The Difference Between Confidence and Competence

As part of my quest to cultivate more conscious leadership and awareness in myself and at my company, I’ve started being more present, paying attention to my strengths and weaknesses, noticing the effects my actions have on others, intentionally responding to organizational changes, and finding other conscious leaders to join our team or accept additional responsibilities within it.

Today, I’d like to discuss the latter point: finding conscious leaders—and, more specifically, the importance of differentiating between empty confidence and actual competence in those you’re seeking. Conscious leaders are committed to learning; growing; and developing themselves as well as everyone else on their teams and within their organizations. These people spend significantly more time focusing on the “we” than the “me.” The more conscious leaders an organization is able to hire or cultivate, the better off the organization is as a whole.

At WebPT, we’re improving our employee development programs and looking to promote more from within. We have great people working for us—as I’m sure you do, too—so it’s only logical that some of our best leadership candidates would come from our existing pool of employees. After all, these people have experience and specialized knowledge—plus, they’ve already demonstrated cultural fit. The challenge becomes promoting the right people for the right reasons. While it’s easy to believe that the person who is most confident in his or her skills will also be the most competent—that’s why he or she is so confident, right?—this isn’t always the case. And empty confidence that’s not supported by a foundation of core competency can be seriously problematic. For example, no one wants to hear a presidential candidate claim greatness that he or she isn’t capable of achieving. The same goes for job candidates.

While some demonstrations of overconfidence are meant to mislead, most aren’t intentional. Research shows that people have a limited self-awareness when it comes to their own abilities. Poor performers tend to grossly overestimate how well they did on tests that measure logical thinking, grammar, and sense of humor. Top performers, on the other hand, tend to underestimate their own skills in comparison to others’.

So, how can we accurately assess competence—our own or someone else’s? Well, first we can give confidence less blind trust. It’s a wonderful skill to have, and it’s important in any role—especially a position of leadership—but it only works if it’s backed up by skills and experience. Whether you’re interviewing for a new role, interviewing someone else to join your team, or simply collaborating in a meeting, the following best practices can help you keep the focus on what matters most: competence.

  1. Don’t hire mini-yous. The mini-me syndrome refers to an unconscious belief held by many interviewers that a candidate who is similar to them is more likely to succeed than a candidate who is dissimilar. Not only is this belief totally false, but it also prevents you from experiencing the benefits of a diverse team with varied skills, interests, passions, and perspectives. The first step toward avoiding this bias is to be aware of it; the second is to employ a multiple-interview process that involves several different interviewers who ask deep questions—ones that encourage candidates to open up about themselves and their skills, experience, and motivations for joining the company in a particular role.
  2. Treat promotions the same way as new roles. By posting all positions internally and making them transparent to everyone, you can avoid making closed-door decisions that give overconfident people the opportunity to climb swiftly up the career-ladder at the expense of others. Leaders should also encourage those individuals who have exhibited competence and the potential to be successful in a new role to apply. Essentially, act as a sponsor. Too often, competent team members aren’t self-promotional and thus will not apply for a position they would actually excel in until someone gives them a nudge. Be the nudge.
  3. Include a competency test during the interview process. Asking direct, relevant, and experiential questions during any interview is key to determining competence. On the flip side, being able to answer these direct, relevant, and experiential questions is key to demonstrating your competence. Here are two examples of interview questions/activities that I’ve found useful: 

    How would you handle a situation in which [give a specific situation that someone in this role may face]? And what criteria would you use to determine whether you succeeded or failed?

    Let’s role-play an example of how you would approach a performance review discussion.

  4. Never “fake it ’til you make it.” I personally hate this saying and the mindset that often accompanies it, because it appears to promote short-term gain instead of long-term success—and that’s not what physical therapists are all about. Being driven to succeed and willing to put in the work necessary to excel in a job that’s a bit more advanced than a candidate’s current skill level are both great qualities. But, they are not qualities that everyone has—and faking it will only lead to failure. In this case, the candidate must genuinely be competent and willing to invest the time and effort to level up. Because without that drive, he or she is destined to fall short.
  5. Don’t underestimate the power of climbing the jungle gym—instead of the ladder. Speeding straight up the ladder may not always be the wisest choice; it could even lead to a pretty hard fall. However, the jungle gym approach—which involves identifying and making moves (occasionally even lateral ones) that allow you to deepen your knowledge and expand your skills—may enable you to make a larger career leap in time, thereby reaching the summit faster than if you moved straight up, one rung at a time.


One great employee is the equivalent of three mediocre ones. Don’t settle for mediocre. Let’s all hold true to our values—and do our profession proud—by continuing to excel, prioritizing competence, and staying on the lookout for other amazing, conscious leaders to play even bigger roles on our teams. After all, our industry is moving fast, and there’s no indication that it’s going to slow down anytime soon. As our healthcare system goes the way of the Triple Aim—the national effort to reduce costs, increase patient satisfaction levels, and improve patient outcomes—physical therapy will play an increasingly important role. That means we must consistently perform at our best. To do so successfully and consciously, we’ve got to work together to achieve—and promote—greatness. It’s not about who claims to be the best at a job or speaks the loudest about his or her accomplishments; it’s about doing the work. It’s about demonstrating—and rewarding—competence. And it’s going to take a team effort

About the Author

Heidi Jannenga PT, DPT, ATC/L is the president and co-founder of WebPT, the leading practice management solution for physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Heidi leads WebPT’s product vision, company culture, and branding efforts, while advocating for the physical therapy profession on a national scale. She co-founded WebPT after recognizing the need for a more sophisticated industry-specific EMR platform and has since guided the company through exponential growth, while garnering national recognition. Heidi brings with her more than 15 years of experience as a physical therapist and multi-clinic site director as well as a passion for healthcare innovation, entrepreneurship, and leadership.

An active member of the sports and private practice sections of the APTA, Heidi advocates for independent rehab therapy businesses, speaks as a subject-matter expert at industry conferences and events, and participates in local and national technology, entrepreneurship, and women-in-leadership seminars. In 2014, Heidi was appointed to the PT-PAC Board of Trustees. She also serves as a mentor to physical therapy students and local entrepreneurs and leverages her platform to promote the importance of diversity, company culture, and overall business acumen for private practice rehab therapy professionals.

Heidi was a collegiate basketball player at the University of California, Davis, and remains a lifelong fan of the Aggies. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and exercise physiology, went on to earn her master’s degree in physical therapy at the Institute of Physical Therapy in St. Augustine, Florida, and obtained her doctorate of physical therapy through Evidence in Motion. When she’s not enjoying time with her daughter Ava, Heidi is perfecting her Spanish, practicing yoga, or hiking one of her favorite Phoenix trails.


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