Are You Fooling Yourself?

IN GARRISON KELLOR’S fictional community of Lake Wobegon,

“the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” As it turns out, this depiction is not limited to Lake Wobegon.”

One of the most documented findings in psychology is the average person’s ability to believe extremely flattering things about him or herself. We generally think that we possess a host of desirable traits and that we’re free of the most unattractive ones.

And this is particularly true of high-achievers who deem themselves to be more intelligent, more fair-minded and even better drivers than others. What about you? Do you:

  • Overestimate your contribution to successful project?
  • Exaggerate your team’s impact on company performance and profitability?
  • Have a high opinion of your professional skills and standing in relation to your peers?

The fact that successful people tend to be a bit delusional isn’t all bad. Our belief in our wonderfulness gives us confidence. Even though we are not as good as we think we are, this confidence actually helps us be better than we would become if we did not believe in ourselves.

Here’s the Catch:

While confidence and a fair view of one’s capabilities and strengths are essential, over-confidence and an elevated sense of worth can to lead to ineffective relationships, poor decision making and ultimate failure in our leadership and our business. When we focus on proving, justifying or defending ourselves, we cut ourselves off from opportunities to understand others’ perspectives, get more accurate information and tap into the best solutions.

In other words, according to the great executive coach Marshall Goldsmith, the same beliefs that helped us get to here – our current level of success, can inhibit us from making the changes needed to get to there – the next level that we have the potential to reach.

Less Confidence, More Leadership Success

The Harvard Business Review article Less-Confident People Are More Successful asserts that a moderately low level of self-confidence is more likely to make you successful. Don’t confuse this with a very low degree of self-confidence. Excessive fear, anxiety and stress will inhibit performance, impede decision-making and undermine interpersonal relationships.

If you’re serious about becoming a strong leader, lowering your self-confidence can serve as a strong ally. Yes, this may seem counter-intuitive, but it works! Here’s why:

  • It motivates you to work harder and prepare more effectively
  • It makes you pay attention to both positive and negative feedback.
  • It reducesyour chances of coming across as arrogant or a “know-it-all”.

Smart Moves Tip:

Recruit people to help you get from where you are (which can be a pretty great place) to where you want to be (which can be even better). Your first inclination when people point out areas for improvement may be to believe that they are ‘wrong’ or ‘confused’. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Be open to the fact that they may well be right and you may well be the one who is confused.


Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle
Marcia Zidle, The Smart Moves Coach, is a national known board certified coach and keynote leadership speaker who guides organizations that are planning, or in the midst of, ambitious growth and change. As a career strategist, she works with professionals, managers and executives who want to build • shape • brand • change • vitalize their careers. She’s been selected by LinkedIn’s ProFinder as one of the best coaches for 2016!Her clients range from private owned businesses to mid-market companies to professional service firms to NGO’s. With 25 years of management, business consulting and international experience, she brings an expertise in executive and team leadership; employee engagement and innovation; personal and organization change; career building and development; emotional and social intelligence. Your Future Starts Now With Marcia!

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  1. In terms of the study, what is considered “less confident”?
    In our work, it’s not confidence but emotion that determines effective decision making and good results.

    When people are happy, they tend to take less risks and see information very objectively. This leads to effective decision making and good results.

    When people are not happy, they tend to be very reactive, take more risks, and have difficulty seeing facts and evidence objectively. This leads to poor decisions being made leading to very bad results.

    Just because someone is confident and positive doesn’t make them happy. However, confidence in an individual can quickly spread to others when they are not happy — and that can lead to bad results.