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Why it’s (often) better to be confident than smart

November 21, 2014, 5:00 PM UTC
Dean Sally Blount
Photograph by Callie LIpkin

MPW Insider is one of several online communities where the biggest names in business answer timely career and leadership questions. Today’s answer for: Career-wise, is it more important to be smart or confident? is written by Sally Blount, Dean of Kellogg School of Management.

Being confident trumps being smart. Obviously there is a threshold of both required in a senior leader, but once you pass that threshold, in my mind confidence wins — hands down. That’s because the best leaders know what they know and what they don’t know. They are crystal clear on where their own gaps in knowledge are. Their job is to confidently build and lead a senior team that aggregates all the smarts their organization needs

As Phebe Novakovic, CEO of General Dynamics, recently said to students in my class on leadership at Kellogg, “Don’t let anybody take away your confidence.” Jim McNerney, CEO of Boeing, echoed that thought in his remarks to our students this week, “you don’t get the top job because you can make the numbers. That’s a given.” To be CEO, you also need the “emotional make-up” to weather the turbulence at the top.

Clarity of purpose, decisiveness, agility, and resilience — these are the unique requirements of today’s leader. And they all rely on confidence. The modern business environment depends upon senior leaders who, with their teams, can sift through the endless data, information, distractions and hearsay to pick and chart a true north course of action and stay with it.

At Kellogg, I am surrounded by brilliant faculty and frequently interact with the world’s savviest business leaders. If I do my job right, I’m not going to be the smartest person in the room. But I must have the confidence that I am the best equipped to lead our school forward.

Read all answers to the MPW Insider question: Career-wise, is it more important to be smart or confident?

Why ‘fake it till you make it’ actually works by China Gorman, CEO of Great Place to Work Institute.

Why confidence trumps smarts by Liz Wiseman, President of Wiseman Group.

Humility is the best kind of confidence by Christina Smedley, Vice President of Global Brand and Communications at PayPal.

Confidence is the “golden ticket” by Sallie Krawcheck, Chair of Ellevate Network.