What Happens When Leaders Overestimate Their Effectiveness?

When confidence backfires.

Posted Nov 25, 2018

The very best leaders are self-aware. They know their strengths and limitations. They strive to overcome those limitations and become better leaders. At the same time, it takes self-confidence to be a leader.

What happens when self-awareness takes a backseat to too much leader self-confidence?

Research by Leanne Atwater and colleagues has shown that leaders who overestimate their leadership effectiveness tend to be narcissistic and have too much belief in their own competence and are unrealistically optimistic – believing that they will be more successful than circumstances will allow. In addition, overestimators tend to ignore criticism and thus are unlikely to see their own flaws and they don’t work to overcome their weaknesses.

What about those who underestimate their leadership effectiveness?

Underestimators tend to overemphasize their weaknesses and undervalue their true leadership strengths. This leads to a lack of self-confidence (although some underestimators may work hard to try to compensate for their perceived weaknesses).

How about leaders who are accurate in estimating their leader effectiveness?

These leaders understand their leadership strengths and shortcomings and are better able to employ their skills and work to develop those that are lacking.

How do researchers measure estimation of leadership effectiveness?

It is done by having both leaders rate themselves and the followers/direct reports of the leader completing the same ratings of leadership effectiveness. The amount of agreement/disagreement leads to the determination of leader under- and over-estimators, and those leaders who have a good understanding of how they are seen by their followers.

The research also shows that leaders who are in agreement with the ratings of their followers have a higher potential for promotion and lower risk of experiencing leader derailment. In other words, knowing oneself, and how one is viewed by followers, helps boost a leader’s effectiveness, career success, and continued leadership development.

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References

Atwater, L.E., & Yammarino, F.J. (1992). Does self-other agreement on leadership perceptions moderate the validity of leadership and performance predictions? Personnel Psychology, 45, 141-165.

Atwater, L.E., Ostroff, C., Yammarion, F.J., & Fleenor, J.W. (1998). Self-other agreement: Does it really matter? Personnel Psychology, 51, 577-598.