The real problem is that so, so, so many leaders are self-deluded

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I think we all generally know that self-awareness isn’t too high in a lot of workplaces (self-reflection neither), but have we entered into a period of self-delusion too? Unfortunately, we may have. Let’s follow this bouncing ball a little bit.

Self-delusion: 82 vs. 80

Stat we’ve known for a while, via Gallup and others: 82 percent of managers end up being the wrong hire for a job.

New stat we just hit in an article called “How To Tell Leaders They’re Not As Great As They Think They Are:” per this research, 80 percent of managers think they are pretty good at their job.


82 vs. 80 on the wrong sides of the ledger.


How does this managerial self-delusion occur?

Tons of different reasons. If I had to list some of the bigger ones, I’d go with:

Unclear job roles: A lot of times, managers are not entirely sure what their role day-to-day should be. This has become harder with technology.

Priorities are all over the place: This is unfortunately very common at most companies.

Serving two masters: Common for rank-and-files with “The Two Bosses Problem” and common for middle managers who have to manage both up and down.

Over-focus on KPIs: which leads to a lot of checking boxes, which isn’t real work.

If you add all this together, many workplaces are low-priority with a focus on box-checking. So a manager thinks “I am very good at this stuff!” because all it is is moving from A to B. That’s the 80 percent number above. But the problem is, the stuff the manager needs to be doing — developing people, strategy, building alliances — that isn’t happening. That’s the 82 percent number above.

At that intersection point arrives the self-delusion.

Can we make managers more self-aware?

We can, but it requires the following to happen:

  • They need the capacity for self-awareness, which admittedly not everyone has.
  • Managers need to want to get better around these topics, as opposed to topics tied to their bonus.
  • Organizations need better ways to identify and drive priority.
  • There needs to be more alignment between the top strategy and the day-to-day work.
  • Job roles should be more clear and can’t be “Hey, you don’t look busy, hop on this for me.”
  • We need ways to improve communication throughout an organization.

Isn’t self-delusion pretty rampant in society as is?

To an extent. Confirmation bias is pretty much everything right now, at least in America, which has turned a lot of us into nervous wrecks. Confirmation bias is somewhat similar to self-delusion in the sense that you ward yourself off from reality and chase what you know. (Ironically, this is also tied to increasing feelings of social isolation.) Social media obviously plays in here for those that use it; those channels create, and foster, much self-delusion in individuals regarding how important they are. (“My post got 72 likes!”)

The conditions of a given business ecosystem usually mirror the conditions of the broader social ecosystem. Like right now, we’re all obsessed with tech — and so are workplaces. We love us some social — and so do workplaces, even though they mostly use it to jam offers down our throats. Workplaces and society move in tandem. It’s not always a perfect dance but it’s a dance alright.

So yes, managerial self-delusion is fairly high. And with the way we organize and offer incentives within companies, it’s not likely to change massively anytime soon. To think that’s gonna happen would be … well … self-delusion.

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