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Don’t Let It Go to Your Head: The Difference Between Self-Confidence and Overconfidence in Leadership

The Signs of Overconfidence and How to Combat It

A good leader is confident in themselves and what they do. They take risks and lead by example. They inspire and influence. 

Confident leaders are more likely to be successful. But it is important to know where to draw the line. Are you letting your confidence go to your head?

The problem with being an overconfident leader

The overconfident leader is someone who overestimates their own skills and capacity to lead. They rate themselves at a higher level than they deserve to be. This is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect: a phenomenon in which incompetent people often have an inflated view of their own abilities. I’ve heard it described as, “a cognitive bias in which incompetent people are too incompetent to know they are incompetent”.

Overconfidence is damaging. It makes a leader stop listening to their team. This damages the leader’s credibility and the team’s trust in the leader. It also affects the quality of decisions made by the leader because their judgment becomes clouded by ego and narcissism.

We should be careful about how much confidence we show. It can make us look arrogant towards our colleagues and subordinates. It will not only damage our relationship with others but also damage our work performance in general.

Signs you are overconfident in your day-to-day leadership practice

Are you becoming overconfident as a leader? Here are a few signs to watch out for:

  • You think you are the only one who can change the company culture

Company culture is a representation of the atmosphere within a company. It is the social environment in which people work, a reflection of the beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that a company instills in its employees. It’s not just an idea – it’s an articulation of what you believe in as a group.

  • You believe a plan that worked elsewhere will work here too

You copy what you have done elsewhere and think it will work here, too. You like to believe that the culture, management, and team are all different, but the idea behind the strategy can be adopted. You need to understand what is not working in your organization before you can find alternative solutions. The copy-and-paste approach rarely works, no matter how much you try to force it upon your team.

  • You constantly want to do it all yourself

You only want to do it all yourself because you don’t trust other people. This is a sign of overconfidence and not a good trait to have. A lot of successful business owners know how important it is to delegate tasks instead of doing them themselves. This way, they can focus on the bigger picture and envision long-term goals that they want to achieve. It also helps to develop your team members.

  • You think you can deal with many different things at once

Multitasking is a self-deceptive illusion. Multi-tasking might seem to be an efficient way of managing time, but it is just a myth. The truth is that multitasking never works because it causes the brain to switch rapidly from one task to another. This creates a lot of stress for the brain, which can lead to worse performance on all tasks.

You’re over-promising to your staff, clients, and key stakeholders

Over-promising is also called ‘over-selling’. This occurs when people promise more than they can deliver or when they set unrealistically high expectations for themselves or others. Overconfidence is a primary cause of this. This leads to disappointment in the long run, which in turn leads to the failure of the organization.

It is important that you act responsibly towards your staff, clients, and key stakeholders so that they are not led to disappointment because of your over-promises.

  • You’re taking too much risk

The lack of the ability to recognize and avoid risks is a consequence of being overconfident in your own ability. You don’t weigh up the pros and cons before rushing headlong into a poor decision. You underestimate the risk, unable to believe that something could go wrong.

  • Your team hardly ever disagrees with you 

This might sound like an enviable position to be in, but this kind of unanimity can have a negative impact on the team. The problem is that when there’s no dissenting opinion from anyone, it means that you’re not being challenged. You’ll stop thinking in different ways.

I guess you could call it a ‘groupthink’ situation. In these cases, when someone does eventually question the status quo, they’re often seen as a troublemaker. And you, of course, are always right (which is another reason your team hardly ever disagrees with you). 

If your team does not disagree with you, it might be because they are too afraid to speak up or they think that their opinion doesn’t matter. That’s not good for team dynamics.

How to control overconfidence and be the leader your business needs

There are many techniques for controlling overconfidence. Understanding how it works and what can result from it can help you take steps back. It’s not enough to just know the feeling, though; it is important to always be aware of your limitations and manage overconfidence. Here are three tactics you can employ immediately to combat overconfidence.

  1. Listen to your team

It is important to listen to your team. Ask them for their feedback, and understand that each has its own strengths and something unique to offer. 

They should be able to express their opinions in a healthy manner, and in an environment where everyone can learn from each other. Don’t rely only on your opinion – you don’t want groupthink. The goal of listening to your team is for them to feel like they are heard and appreciated, and for the team to grow stronger together.

  1. Practice self-awareness 

Self-awareness is the act of becoming conscious of one’s strengths and weaknesses, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It’s an important skill that must be cultivated just like any other skill.

There are different ways to practice self-awareness. These include mindfulness, meditation, and journaling your day-to-day activities, taking note of your thoughts, feelings, and habits.

  1. Every day, ask yourself, “What can I do better?”

It can be easy to get caught up in your emotions and forget that you’re fallible. The more you think that everything you do is the best it can be done, or that every decision you make is the right one, the more overconfident you can become.

Combat this by taking time out at the end of each day to ask, “What am I doing that I could do better?” You may be surprised how this level of self-reflection can help to maintain inspirational self-confidence without it developing into damaging overconfidence.

Stay grounded and in tune with reality

There is a difference between confidence and overconfidence. Confidence comes from a healthy amount of self-belief, whereas overconfidence stems from an inflated ego. It’s important to be aware of the signs you are overconfident in your day-to-day leadership practice to keep yourself in check.

Acknowledge your team’s good work, listen to their feedback, and take time to reflect on your own performance. That way you’ll stay grounded and in tune with reality, while still maintaining high self-confidence.

To learn more about building your self-confidence as the leader of a creative agency, watch my new ‘Consistent Confidence’ webinar.

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