Business viewpoint: Leaders' confidence best in moderation
BY LYNN FLINN Business Viewspoint
Thursday, January 31, 2013
1/31/13 at 5:39 AM
Most people reasonably believe that in order to be a good leader one must be confident, able to promote ideas and provide direction to others. These traits are essential to leadership, but as with most things, moderation is important.
Leaders who overuse confidence can cause detrimental and sometimes disastrous results in their organization. Three different scenarios came to mind as I thought about overconfident leaders:
John Gibson, chairman and CEO of both ONEOK Inc. and ONEOK Partners LP, once said a leader who thinks he/she is the smartest in the room has what he calls "fatal conceit."
Fatal conceit stifles creativity. If the boss is right all the time, what is the point of speaking up? If as a leader you truly want participation, then what are you doing to foster that involvement?
Do you ever ask, "What are your thoughts?" or "What do you think would work better?" If you ever say phrases like, "We've tried that" or "I have a better idea," you may want to take a step back and see if you might be suffering from a case of fatal conceit.
The truth is, any strong leader is bound to come down with a touch of this disease from time to time. However, the difference between a confident leader and an overconfident leader is the ability to detect it, which is vital to your organization.
Without proper enrichment, people cannot grow and learn. An overconfident leader often becomes a crutch for others. Not only are employees unable to problem solve independently, but they also become frustrated because of the continual rejection of their ideas.
The confident leader wants to help employees succeed on their own and is willing to send employees to training and provide coaching and mentoring instead of dictating all the decisions. The best leaders in the strongest organizations hire people who are stronger and more capable in different areas than themselves.
Being in the staffing industry has afforded me the opportunity to work with several different types of leaders during the hiring process. Oftentimes when a leader says someone is "overqualified," it's really just another way of saying, "I don't want to hire someone who might be better than me." The top leaders want the best people on their teams, and they want to develop them.
David Myers, former controller at WorldCom, worked for one of the most confident, arrogant leaders, Scott Sullivan. Sullivan told his employees, "You are just stupid." He made his employees afraid of him by creating an environment of intimidation. This atmosphere ultimately led to the downfall of WorldCom. No one would stand up to their overconfident, demeaning leader.
Eventually, several leaders, including Sullivan, spent time in prison due to dishonest financial reporting. The company was destroyed, along with innocent investors' and employees' money.
Myers took a different route. He now speaks "pro bono" to students around the country, warning them: "Never let someone else tell you that they will take responsibility for your actions. Only you are responsible."
As leaders, we often forget the impact we have on others. We sometimes don't realize when we are coming on too strong and failing to listen to others. We must constantly keep our minds and our doors open to ideas and feedback from others. This is something leaders should remember every single day.
Overconfidence can be injurious or deadly to your organization.
Original Print Headline: Leaders' confidence best in moderation
Lynn Flinn is CEO of The Rowland Group, leads the Tulsa chapter of Executive Women International and is founder of the local chapter of the Oklahoma Business Ethics Consortium.
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