Confidence is an attribute that every leader needs to embrace and to foster in others. But when confidence goes too far, it can become hubris.
Overdosing on confidence is easy to do. Jim Collins writes about the organizational side of hubris in his latest book, How the Mighty Fall. Stage 1 of organizational failure is "hubris born of success." It "sets in when people become arrogant, regarding success virtually as an entitlement, and they lose sight of the true underlying factors that created success in the first place."
Many leaders veer into hubristic behavior without realizing their shortcomings. We may be well intentioned, but we all suffer from a blind spots.So how can leaders know when their own confidence is verging on hubris? Here are some warning signs:
· You make many decisions independently. No, dithering isn't good. But bosses who make all of their own decisions without speaking to others are asking for trouble. How much do you ask for others' input?
· You can't remember the last time you spoke to a customer. Failure to discover what people think about what you offer is not only foolhardy, it's a recipe for failure in the future. If you think you're "too busy" to connect with customers, that's a warning sign.
· You always have lunch with the same people.Socializing only with select peers cuts you off from people who might offer alternate views.
· Your team always seems to agree with you. If no one has contradicted you in a while, you may have inadvertently created a no-bad-news culture. Surrounding yourself with people who can only do one thing — nod — is an invitation to disaster.
· When something goes wrong, the first thing you ask is, "Who's responsible?" This may be a sign that you overemphasize accountability at the expense of problem-solving — which your team may see this as finger-pointing.
If any of this sounds familiar, consider what you need to change. What can you do?
Start by asking people to talk back. Employees need to be able to tell their bosses what they really think. Bosses who make people uncomfortable about telling the truth are asking for trouble. They end up sandbagging reality.
So take it a step further — insist on candor. Ancient Romans embraced the concept of simplicitas— straightforwardness. Every boss owes his employees straight talk about their own performance as well as the performance of the team and the company. Candor can be cleansing in that it clears out the haze of "smoke and mirrors" that organizations tend to create.
Make time to walk the halls, talk to customers, and speak with vendors. Get the straight dope on how the company is performing. Do not take internal reports at face value. Sometimes reports are created to shield the guilty from accountability. Use your own "walk the beat" approach to finding out the truth.
Finally, remember that once your stakeholders start talking more openly, it's your job to listen.
Confidence is very often a virtue. Without self-confidence, a manager is one waiting for someone else to step forward. Leaders need to have faith in themselves in order to have the gumption to lead, and they need to spread that self-assurance throughout their organizations. Every employee needs to know that his boss believes not only in himself, but also in the capacity of the team to achieve its objectives.
But, as we have seen so often, too much confidence is a toxic cocktail, one that can lead to a very long hangover.
- John Baldoni is a leadership consultant, coach, and speaker.