26 Jul 2017 21:09 IST

Do not mistake over-confidence for leadership!

Take a step back, analyse and try to be self-aware about the way you lead

One of the most misunderstood concepts in management is leadership, and sometimes, B-schools reinforce the belief that being over-confident makes you a leader. From the time of admissions, when group discussions are a key decider of ability, and through their time at B-school, somehow the young managers tend to see high levels of confidence as a requirement, or even an indicator, of leadership! Unfortunately, when this belief is stretched and carried forward, it often derails otherwise highly talented youngsters.

Confidence is absolutely critical and there can be no second opinion on whether leaders need it; however, leadership is much more than just confidence. It is important to acknowledge that there is clear line that, when crossed, makes confidence degenerate into over-confidence. How do you know if you are over-confident and mistake that for leadership? Here are some symptoms:

1. You tend to dismiss the opinions and judgment of the others you work with. This comes from a sense of “I know I am smart and don’t need any advice.” Unfortunately, in the VUCA world of today, no one is smart enough to know everything. Not only do leaders tend do suffer from over-confidence, ignoring sane advice from colleagues, they also ignore the experts invited to assist them on crucial business decisions.

2. Another indicator that you are over-confident is that you ignore market or business indicators that point to developments that can impact your business. Typically, over-confident leaders tend to dismiss such negative indicators and operate under an illusion that such indicators are either irrelevant or will not hurt their business. They believe they are invincible, and when the dragon at the door strikes, they are completely devastated.

3. Leaders in every sector take calculated risks; they realise there are no rewards without risks. But over-confidence is not the same as calculated risk-taking. It is excessive indulgence in inviting or absorbing risks. This can happen in making investments, buying technology, going ahead with inorganic growth opportunities through acquisitions, and the like. Excessive risk-taking arising out of over-confidence leads to situations leaders cannot recover from. Usually, they lose their face, reputation, and their future!

4. A track record of success is pretty important for any leader; except when such a track record leads to over-confidence. This is for a variety of reasons. Past success could be due to favourable market conditions or as a result of many factors coming together to drive the success. To assume all the credit for past success and allowing it to go to one’s head leads to over-confidence. Such leaders ‘swell’ in their jobs instead of ‘growing’ into them. There is a huge difference: growing is about maturity, and swelling is all about over-confidence.

5. Over-confident leaders seldom realise they are over-confident, and that is even more deadly. They just consider themselves legitimately confident like every leader should be. Unfortunately, even when over-confidence has failed them, they may not realise and try to become more self-aware. The same over-confidence makes them “look out the window” rather than “look into the mirror” to learn and correct.

B-School graduates would do well to watch the film Trouble with the Curve, in which Clint Eastwood plays a long-time baseball scout. The movie highlights the problem of over-confidence in decision-making which comes from thinking and believing that you have more accurate and complete information than you actually do. Yes, it is true that no one has all the information and data to make decisions. However, tending to believe that what one has (experience, information, knowledge) is enough to proceed with vital decisions is also true.

Building confidence is absolutely necessary; but guarding against over-confidence can save a lot of leaders from difficult situations.