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The delusions of leadership

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The delusions of leadership

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I’m sure most of you are familiar with the illusory superiority bias, whereby people tend to believe they’re much better at things than they actually are.  Suffice to say, such a lack of self awareness is generally speaking a pretty bad thing in the workplace.  It has resulted in numerous attempts to improve the awareness/perception gap, including things such as 360 degree feedback appraisals.

Feedback is of course fundamental to overcoming the illusory superiority bias as it gives us a regular reality check.  Research has shown that in fields where feedback is plentiful for instance, our perception gap is much less.  For instance, people tend to view their language abilities with a high degree of accuracy, because we’re constantly getting feedback on whether people understand us or not.

Research also discovered that the difference between perception and reality was smallest when the feedback was specific and objective.

It’s perhaps no surprise therefore that those with the biggest gap between perceived ability and actual ability can be found soundly ensconced in the boardrooms of our organizations.  The ability gap is lowest for more lowly ranked employees, with the level of self perception gradually worsening until it reaches its pinnacle at the very top of our organizations.

This could well be because as people rise in power, so the number of people willing, capable or brave enough to give them feedback begins to shrink.

Of course, this does assume that leaders would listen to feedback even if it were offered. One study found that when a group had no leader, it was typically the person with most narcissistic traits that stepped forward to do the job.  I wrote last year about a study exploring the affect overbearing leaders can have on collaboration, so it is not at all hard to see how such an overbearing attitude can also overwhelm attempts to give them feedback on their behaviour.

Feedback is fundamental to any social business, with a quick and transparent flow of information forming the focal point of a sense and respond organization.  Leadership is essential to that.  In addition to creating the right environment for frequent feedback, it helps to walk the walk. As a leader it pays for you to lead by example and both give regular feedback, but also request it from those you work with. Make sure you look for negative as well as positive feedback, to show that if well delivered, criticism is a welcome thing.

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