What if I told you that you're not as competent as you think you are? Sounds provocative, right? But that's what the Dunning-Kruger effect is all about - overestimating our own abilities while underestimating those of others. This cognitive bias can blind us to our limitations, skew decision-making processes, and make us less receptive to feedback. As leaders, it's imperative to recognize and mitigate this bias. We'll discuss examples demonstrating how Dunning-Kruger effects leadership and explore the importance of self-awareness in counteracting it.
Now, let's switch gears. Imagine if you could enhance your leadership qualities simply by being open to feedback. We're talking about intellectual and emotional humility, folks! An open mind can counter the Dunning-Kruger effect and propel your personal and professional growth. We'll explore how embracing feedback can transform you into a more effective leader. So, ready your mind for a healthy dose of self-reflection and the possibility of learning from others. After all, we're all on this journey to become better versions of ourselves. Let's navigate it together!
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Welcome to the Intentional Leaders Podcast. This is episode 127. Do you think you know, or do you? And are you confident? Should you be? What is the impact of the Dunning-Kruger effect on leadership? Welcome to Intentional Leaders. This podcast is not just for leaders, rather for anyone who wants to make an impact on the world, professionally or personally. My passion and purpose is to provide tips, tools and resources that I've learned throughout my career, working with large and small organizations, profit and non, and also as an entrepreneur. I've had the joy to teach thousands of individuals who, like you, are trying to navigate this crazy and complex world. So here's to doing that successfully and intentionally. Today we're going to talk about a super cool cognitive bias, and the reason I wanted to talk about this is because I have been doing a lot of work on the mindsets, and what I'm noticing about people who are engaging in mindset assessments is the reality of many people believing they are open-minded than doing an assessment in which they look at their open-mindedness and they actually are more closed-minded than they think. Oh, big self-awareness opportunity. But this bias of the Dunning-Kruger effect is about confidence and competence, and it does have an effect on how open-minded people are about what they know and what they don't know. But the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which people with limited competence in a particular area overestimate their abilities, and the bias is measured by comparing self-assessment with objective performance. It was named after David Dunning and Justin Kruger, who published their study in 1999. I bet, if you think of this with people around you, leaders around you, throughout your career, I bet you've seen this and maybe I don't know, just maybe you've seen it in yourself. I know I have. How this affects us is in three key areas. It has to do with overestimating our abilities or underestimating or being blind to the ability of other people because we don't realize how skilled they may be, and especially if they're in our same field, or we're unaware of our own limitations or mistakes and we may make risky decisions. What psychology says is that ignorant people are more likely to believe they're brilliant, while intelligent people tend to underestimate their intelligence and cognitive abilities. This reminds me of a beautiful quote by Albert Einstein, and he said the more I learn, the more I realize how much I don't know. Here is the Dunning-Kruger effect and what it feels like or looks like, and see again if you have observed this or experienced it yourself. So you can kind of think of a picture here of confidence. Confidence is going to be the vertical axis, from low to high, and then competence is the horizontal axis, from I don't know anything to I am a guru in this field with my knowledge or experience. And when we don't know anything about a subject and I think about this for a lot of classes I've taught then people get out of the class. Maybe it's two hours, maybe it's four hours, maybe it's a whole series on leadership, and then they get out having maybe not known a lot about the subject, but then they go out with really high confidence Like, ooh, I get this, I'm highly confident now that I know how to go out and be a leader. And this sounds terrible. But when you look at a graphic of the Dunning-Kruger effect, it says this is the peak of Mount Stupid and that sounds terrible, but it is. We are overly confident in how much we actually know. Then it's kind of like, okay, maybe I'm learning about managing my emotions, for example, or emotional intelligence, and I go through a class and I think I got this. But then I go out and I try to apply what I've learned and I realize, oh my gosh, I don't know, I'm not. I guess I don't really know how much I don't know about this. And then we fall into what's called the valley of despair that we feel like, oh my goodness, I think I need more education, I need more knowledge on this. So what happens over time is, if we realize we don't know what we don't know, we continue to go up the slope and it's called the slope of enlightenment. When we think about all the areas that we don't know and getting better at something, we open ourselves up to all of that knowledge and insight and we also look for developing our experience and our skills in a certain area. And what can happen over time, interestingly, is the more we become a guru in something again, the more that we tend to realize that we don't know what we don't know. What's ironic about that, I think, is that when people achieve some level of expertise, they do not overestimate their confidence in the area. They realize how much they still have left to learn. So Dunning Kruger is kind of a really cool thing to look at and it is pretty observable. What I'm going to share with you are these examples that can manifest in leadership. One is about ineffective decision making, people that make poor decisions due to overconfidence in their ability. They may not seek input or be as collaborative or open-minded as they need to be to consider alternative perspectives, and that may lead to some pretty flawed outcomes, decision making one example of the effect of Dunning Kruger. The second is a lack of self-awareness regarding even their own limitations as a leader. They may think they are exceptionally skilled in a certain subject or area, making it difficult for them to see opportunities for improvement. That's the overconfidence coming through, and I have talked a lot about this in my podcast episodes that I think self-awareness is significant, and significant in exceptional leaders. This one, I think, is a biggie, because how can you even know that the Dunning Kruger effect is affecting you if you lack self-awareness? There's irony there. The third one, though, is resistant to feedback. Seeing constructive feedback is unwarranted, because they overestimate their own abilities and they see that kind of feedback as criticism or take that in a very defensive manner. Number four is micromanaging others. If someone believes they are very confident at a task, they may want to handle every aspect of a project, which can also, of course, stifle not just development of the team but creativity and innovation within the team. Number five is being blind to, or inability to recognize competence and other people, so not recognizing or appreciating be thankful for the skills and contributions of people on their team. They might assume, unconsciously, that others are less competent than they actually are, potentially leading to undervaluing people on their team. Number six is overestimating communication skills and assuming that their messages are clear and well received, whereas in reality they may be struggling to convey information effectively or impactfully and their team does not understand what it is they're looking for or their vision or whatever it might be in terms of information being cascaded down to the team or through the team. Number seven difficulty, then, admitting to mistakes. So leaders who are affected by the Dunning-Kruger effect may find it challenging to admit that they have done something wrong, and doing something wrong and making mistakes is just a part of being human. When we can't be vulnerable enough to admit our mistakes, we hinder the learning process and also our ability to course-corrupt, because if we're not willing to be honest about that, if we're not willing to be vulnerable about it, how in the world do we learn and how do we also be a good role model for learning with others? Number eight is a failure to learn and just adapt in general Learning from experiences, adapting to change and maybe believing that they've mastered a skill even when evidence suggests otherwise. So there's eight different ways that the Dunning-Kruger effect can manifest itself in leadership effectiveness, and I bet you can add to that list. I'm confident you can Decision-making, self-awareness, feedback, micromanagement, recognizing competence in others, communication, admitting mistakes and learning and adapting. So what in the world do we do about this? Because I think the again irony of how to avoid this cognitive bias is the level of self-awareness that we need. And so if we are not self-aware, how in the world are we going to discover this? A couple things to keep in mind. I'm going to give you some tips in trying to overcome this. One is questioning yourself. The more I question myself, the more I have to take a peek into my brain about my motivations, my biases, my assumptions, my intentions. And being able to question your knowledge, particularly about a given subject. Honestly, finding out how much you know about it is a really humble and effective approach, especially if you have expertise in an area. Looking for what you don't know is a great strategy. But second, and connected to this, is reassessing the thoughts that you have, your longstanding opinions or assumptions that you make about something and really bringing those to the surface to see if you may be biased in any way. Number three is just gaining more knowledge and experience, being mindful and realizing there really isn't a way to completely master any topic or subject. Think about the people that you really believe are experts, and they position themselves as experts. Do you think they stop learning? And I mean the good ones, the ones who are highly effective? Do they ever say, yep, I'm done, I'm done learning, I'm done growing? This is also a differentiator of highly effective experts is they know that their bucket is never full of knowledge. They're always seeking to put more in it. The fourth one is accepting feedback, and I see this as so critical to growth and development is being a good receiver of feedback. Recently I went to a conference and someone said it doesn't matter how effectively someone gives me the feedback. I may grade them like a C or a C in how they gave it, but what he said is I want to be an A in terms of how I receive the feedback. I think of receiving feedback gratefully and gracefully as something we can all aspire to do, even though our brain will fight against it and try to deflect and protect us. How can we be grateful? And then the next one is also not just receiving it gracefully and gratefully, but actually seeking it out, seeking out guidance, advice and feedback from anyone. It does not matter how much knowledge someone has in a subject compared to us. They may still know something that we don't. I think about being in leadership development for 30 years, and are there people who have less experience than me but have different knowledge or, in some cases, more knowledge than me? Of course there are, and if I don't open up my mind to that probability and possibility, then I am going to remain closed and closed-minded to something that I could learn to be more knowledgeable about the topic at hand. So it isn't about tenure or years of experience. It's about our open-mindedness to different levels of knowledge. It goes back to where I first started this with open and closed-mindedness. How open are you, no matter how much knowledge and experience you have, to someone else knowing something different or more than you do? What a glorious way to be a great leader to always know that someone may add to our tools, may add to the insight that we have of looking at opportunities to grow in that way. Talk about intellectual and emotional humility. Can you show up in that way? As Charles Darwin said, ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge. Some pretty powerful insights to overcome the Dunning-Kruger effect. I hope you learned something interesting today. I know that you can probably observe this in other people, maybe in yourself, and I'm doubling down on my ability to gain insight and knowledge from anywhere, anytime, and also opening my mind up to fill my intellectual bucket. What about you, hey? Do you want to take a peek into your own brain and look at your mindset? This affects everything you do every day and your behaviors, your learning and your success. Reach out to me at CWentland@intentionaleaders. com and we can chat about how to do it.