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I got this! Will Hubris Blind You?

Updated: Jan 25

I think we all feel this way at times, a kind of #overconfidence that can cloud our judgement, create a sense of infallibility, and cause us to dismiss downside risks. We forge ahead with the confident belief that we have covered all the bases, we’re in the driver’s seat, no one can stop us now! This sense of confidence can be heady stuff, can draw others to you, can influence others to follow, convince you that you are the smartest guy in the room!

A definition of Hubris

We’ve also seen those instances where hubris has led to crisis, failure and collapse due to the overconfidence that leads to a sense of certainty that revels in confirmation and validation. We begin to believe we are ‘greater than”, ‘smarter than’, only to find out that we overlooked or assumed something we shouldn’t have.

How do we as leaders guard against this very human attribute? The "deal" that goes sideways because we overlooked key players or signs, the investment made without adequate analysis, dismissing risks because we “knew better” or the overdependence on self because we didn’t believe others had anything to offer beyond what we already knew.

Following are some suggestions to consider, but the success of any of these strategies begins with humility. Without #humility, you simply wont be interested in questioning your own judgement or considering the possibility that there may be more that someone can offer that might further shape your decisions.

So, let’s begin with humility – its necessary, but how do you go about cultivating and nurturing it? Humility is “freedom from pride or arrogance”. Developing humility requires that we “Listen” to others, “Seek Feedback” from those around us, recognize and practice “Intellectual Humility”, get outside of yourself and “Help Others”, be grateful for your gifts and recognize those of others. At the height of arrogance, we may not believe we need to be more humble. Remember, the game is won during practice, so as a leader, commit to the practice of humility and when the time comes you are more likely to be able to see through the fog of overconfidence.

With humility as a foundation, the following suggestions may assist in grounding yourself and your team to keep overconfidence from blindsiding you.

Pay attention to process. As someone who tends toward overconfidence and underestimating risk, process now plays a huge role in helping me mediate risk. I received my pilots license many years back and thoroughly enjoyed the short trips taken. I now understand that there is a pre-flight check list for a reason – when you think you “got it” and stop utilizing the pre check process – you don’t “got it” and things can go horribly wrong. Pay attention to process.

Always identify alternatives. We love the familiar. Heuristics, those bias’s that allow us to process the mass of information we do, leads us to rely on that which is familiar. To overcome the tendency of clinging to the familiar, always identify possible alternatives and make an argument for each of the options. Working in teams with a designated “devils advocate” can assist with this as well.

Get outside of yourself. Remember, success doesn’t change the degree of risk inherent to the task…it only changes our perception of it. Solicit #feedback from others and mine for differing perspectives and ideas.

Wear a mask. Overconfidence is contagious. In research conducted by Joey T. Cheng, Elizabeth R. Tenney, Don A. Moore, and Jennifer M. Logg, they found that people are more likely to become overconfident when others around them express overconfidence.

As with most aspects of leadership, confidence is something of a paradox. On the one hand it’s a desirable trait that instills trust, communicates competence, and encourages others to follow. If overplayed, like other traits, it can quickly contribute to derailing behaviors that can compromise effectiveness and outcomes. Give us a call (877-689-8256) if you believe you could benefit from feedback and insight on how to better strike this balance across audiences and situations.

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