“Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.” – Charles Darwin
A psychologist has completed a study <and written a book> suggesting Confidence is virtually worthless.
I love it.
I love it because how often have we sat in a business meeting listening to some overbearing overconfident blowhard <idiot> spewing forth their garbage with unswerving confidence knowing that someone in the room is buying that shit.
I tend to believe what the author of the study is really saying is that false confidence, overconfidence or arrogant behavior is worthless … but however it is worded … I love it.
Supposedly … being confident does not mean overestimating one’s own qualities and abilities < that would be things like pride, vanity, arrogance, etc.> but rather it means not underestimating your ability and qualities.
That may be so … but most people who are visibly confident <like we can actually tell they are confident> suck at judging what they are confident about.
If it makes the overconfident feel any better about this … all of us suck at judging ourselves.
Research study after research study states that many people who think they suck at something are actually not as sucky as they think … and many people who think they don’t suck at something really do suck at it.
The worst offenders on the latter point?
Leaders and managers … the bosses.
There was a relatively recent study that showed many leaders believe their people <the people they manage or the company overall> like & respect them … when the data actually shows neither <and almost always often to a lesser degree than the leader rates themselves>.
In research where they tested whether the powerful overestimate the strength of their bonds with subordinates the results <published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes> were a shock to business head honchoes … but to no one else.
In one experiment randomly assigned people in work groups with positions of high or low power and a control group were questioned afterwards … and those primed with high power were convinced the others were on their side.
A view not shared by those being bossed.
In another study it was found that participants in the role of subordinates would form alliances against the powerful even when it was not in their financial interest to do so. The mighty were blissfully unaware of the forces working against them.
This research has also been supported with reviews of employee surveys conducted as CEO’s <or senior management> are exiting.
Once again in those situations the senior management when interviewed will state unequivocal employee loyalty, respect and abounding ‘love’ … yet the employees themselves will be stating satisfaction in that they will no longer have to be under that particular management.
So not only do bosses set too much store by their strengths they also habitually overestimate their ability to win respect and support from their employees.
It seems that, for some reason, upon reaching leadership status many leaders lose the knack of reading subtle cues in people behavior.
I found it funny to read that in one study it was found that when a boss tells a joke to a subordinate … the boss loses the innate ability to distinguish between a real and fake smile.
Suffice it to say that the ‘most confident’, the bosses, seriously overestimate the support of underlings.
I included this because I think it becomes very easy to suggest ‘over confidence’ is simply arrogant bluster when it may simply be arrogant obliviousness <I am not exactly sure which is worse by the way>.
In his book Confidence psychologist Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic argues <through research> that confidence is virtually worthless.
On average, he reports, it’s correlated with competence at about 0.30, which means the probability of the most confident person in the room also being the most competent is a meager 15% points better than chance. Uhm. Yeah. I just typed ‘than chance.’
<chew on that factoid for a second or two …>
Partly, that’s down to the famous ‘better-than-average bias’ which is the fact that a majority of us believe we’re better than most at all sorts of things even though that can’t <and isn’t> be true.
By the way <I am chuckling as I write this> … we also think we’re less guilty of self-serving biases than everyone else <in other words … the guilty is someone other than I>.
This is also true of the infamous Truth: “feeling good does not increase the probability of being good.”
<this has been proven again and again in study after study … suffice it to say … ability matters>
His more radical claim is that confidence doesn’t even serve those who have it and that there’s no point trying to increase it.
Humble-but-competent leaders show, in this study, to be both better-liked and more successful than braggarts.
And ‘just low enough’ confidence is the best-of-all scenarios in that it frees you from the dangers of over optimism, stops you ignoring negative feedback and keeps you motivated to acquire skills.
Confidence is worthless might be overstated … but it makes a great point … or points.
- there are benefits to having less confidence <or not being overconfident>
- we should be skeptical of those who are brimming with confidence
- seeming as if you know what the hell you’re doing, or feeling that way, are terrible indicators for whether you actually do
Let me admit several things to close.
I love someone publishing research suggesting you don’t need to be a blowhard or blow your own horn to be successful.
I will be significantly more aware as a leader in the future.