How do good leaders strike that delicate balance between exuding the kind of confidence that inspires respect and enthusiasm among the ranks and what author Mathew Hayward calls "business-wrecking hubris," the over-the-top bragging that can make workers run and hide? Sometimes the balance doesn´t show up until some hard lessons have been learned, but then it might be too late.
Displaying a healthy degree of confidence shouldn´t be limited to leaders. Everyone could benefit from exuding faith in his or her own work, but often we turn to leaders for their example. In my last post, I shared two of the author´s four sources of false confidence that often leads to catastrophic business decisions. Here are sources number three and four as discussed in the new book EGO CHECK: Why Executive Hubris Is Wrecking Careers and Companies and How To Avoid the Trap:
#3. Kidding Themselves About Their Situation-Here, Hayward points out that underestimating the situation one´s company faces can lead an executive to promise more than he or she can actually deliver. That´s never a good idea whether you´re a leader or one of the worker bees. This one seems pretty obvious to me.
This happens when people start believing their own hype, their own celebrity in a sense. Instead of showing off their skills and abilities to follow-through these braggarts want you to fall in love with an image that they want-but can´t necessarily stand behind. It´s also a really good example of practicing selective listening, which really, when you look at it, is very childish behavior. My husband tells a story about his own childhood when a neighbor who wore a hearing aid used to turn it off whenever he didn´t want to listen to his wife. Ha, ha. But in a sense that´s what someone who´s kidding himself about his situation is doing: he´s hearing what he wants to hear. That´s a fairly common practice in and out of business and while we can´t always control that in other people it is extremely helpful to know how to identify it.
#4. Failing to Manage Tomorrow Today. The author raises the importance for leaders to embrace the potential negative consequences of their decisions. He uses the example of NASA´s poor handling of the space shuttle program (underestimating potential problems, failing to take action in response to adverse conditions, and not having a serious back-up plan) and how that compared to Scaled Composite´s (an aerospace and specialty composites development company located in Mojave, California) strategy for having concrete actions in place to counteract any problems as well as creating "just-in-case" solutions.
This one is not unlike the one preceding-once again, it´s about neglecting to pay attention. Sometimes we have to focus on the here and now, but it´s equally important to examine what might or might not happen if you do x versus y versus z and so on. If we don´t look, we won´t see, right? It´s like a child who shuts her eyes and says, "You can´t see me." Trouble will find you whether you´re ready or not and it´s always better to be prepared, right? In many businesses, one of the best, though perhaps unwritten, rules is to imagine who will be unhappy with a proposed plan. You make two columns and in one you list those whose reactions have meaning to your bottom line and in the other you include everyone else, the ones whose opinions don´t really have an impact. Then you figure out how you´re going to deal with the first column. It´s called strategy and without it those involved will be much more susceptible to hubris.