17 April 2020

Judging Leaders

Welcome back. The Harvard Business Review had an interesting article about leader competence last month. I’m not a subscriber and don’t recall ever seeing the magazine. Occasionally, however, the magazine’s articles make it to one of the published research lists I follow.

My interest in leader competence was honed by the leaders I worked with and under during my 20 years in the federal government. Some were very effective, some had us seeking transfers after the first week. Also, as I mentioned in an earlier blog post, Who Chooses to Lead?, a mandatory course on leadership styles and behavior was one of the few I enjoyed.

Good leaders need competence and character
(from www.andersonleadershipsolutions.com/what-is-a-leader-of-character/).
And it would be hard to ignore that the last few years have heightened my and likely many other people’s concern about leadership.

Confidence vs Competence
The author of the article, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, is affiliated with the ManpowerGroup, University College London, Columbia University and Harvard’s Entrepreneurial Finance Lab.

In this and earlier articles, he discusses and cites studies that show competent leaders generate trust, engagement and productivity; incompetent leaders engender anxious, alienated workers, who spread toxicity through the organization.

He argues that, for an organization to have competent leaders, those responsible for selecting candidates need to do a better job at distinguishing between confidence and competence. Both are desired leadership traits, yet incompetent leaders are commonly overconfident.

He refers to the Dunning-Kruger Effect, in which the scope of poor performers’ ignorance is often invisible to them.

A market trader’s depiction of the Dunning-Kruger Effect
(from pg.4, www.marketcalls.in/trading-lessons/).
Identifying arrogance as a key trait of incompetence, he cites a review of how hubristic leaders overestimate their own abilities, believe their performance to be superior to that of others, make overconfident and overambitious judgements and decisions, and tend to resist criticism and advice.

Testing for Incompetence
On the bright side--yes, there is a bright side--Chamorro-Premuzic cites one of his earlier articles in which he observed there are scientifically valid assessments to predict and thereby avoid leadership incompetence. He allows that even simple tests can be useful in predicting leadership style and competence. As an example, he points to the Single Item Narcissism Scale, which correlates significantly with longer narcissism scales.

He also provides a list of questions, which are characteristic of assessments used to evaluate leadership potential. For example, Do you have an exceptional talent for leadership? Would most people want to be like you? Are you destined to be successful?

How can such simple self-assessments predict incompetence? Because arrogant and overconfident individuals, as well as those with narcissistic tendencies, seldom portray themselves in a humble manner.

Wrap Up
Unfortunately, the bright side afforded by assessment tools remains in the shadows. Despite their availability, few organizations use them. The problem, Chamorro-Premuzic writes, is not that we lack the means to spot incompetence, but that we more often choose to be seduced by it.

Rather than select people based on their charisma, overconfidence and narcissism, we must opt for competence, humility and integrity. He concludes: The issue is not that these traits are difficult to measure, but that we appear to not want them as much as we say.

Leadership traits people said mattered most two years before the 2016 election; Pew Research Center survey of 1,835 U.S. adults conducted online in 2014 (from www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/01/14/chapter-2-what-makes-a-good-leader-and-does-gender-matter/).
Thanks for stopping by. 

Leadership article in Harvard Business Review: hbr.org/2020/03/how-to-spot-an-incompetent-leader
Dunning–Kruger Effect in Advances in Experimental Social Psychology: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780123855220000056
Review of hubristic leaders in Leadership journal: journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1742715016680666
Article on scientifically valid personality assessments in Forbes magazine: www.forbes.com/sites/tomaspremuzic/2014/05/12/seven-common-but-irrational-reasons-for-hating-personality-tests/#f8b21cc6bdf4
Study of Single Item Narcissism Scale in PLOS ONE journal: journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0103469

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