August 29, 2016

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 1.52.33 PMOne of the main causes of groupthink is overconfident leaders with an inflated concern for personal reputation. Groupthink is a pervasive threat to effective decision making for leaders. A recent study by Joyce Ehrlinger, Ainsley Mitchum, and Carol Dweck provides some insight into understanding overconfidence. You should recognize Carol Dweck for her seminal work on mindsets. 

In this series of three experiments on university students, the focus was on how participants viewed intelligence. The descriptions of views of intelligence are similar to Dweck’s fixed vs. growth mindsets:

Some people hold a more incremental view of intelligence – characterized by the belief that intelligence is malleable and can be developed over time – while others hold a more entity view – characterized by the belief that intelligence is fixed and unchangeable. People’s beliefs about intelligence will impact the degree to which they engage in self-enhancing behavior, as opposed to behavior that indicates they engage in greater openness to negative information. An orientation toward learning makes incremental theorists open to both positive and negative feedback, which results in relatively accurate views of the self. In contrast, entity theorists belief that intelligence is fixed leads them to adopt goals characterized by efforts to validate, rather than improve, their intelligence. (p. 95)

Results from the three studies confirmed that belief in intelligence as fixed promotes greater overconfidence than the belief that intelligence can be improved. Overconfident people, motivated to preserve a personal reputation as intelligent, avoided more difficult tasks with greater opportunities for learning.

Knowing what we don’t know yet is critical for learning, effective decision-making, and leadership. The results of this study suggest that overconfident leaders concerned with appearing smart are also highly likely to increase the pressure for groupthink.

Let’s not be romanced by these charismatic, intelligent leaders. We are better served valuing leaders that invite realistic feedback, admit the limitations of what they know, and continually pursue mastering the discipline of learning.

What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Comments (4)

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  1. Kellie Lee says:

    Great post. I read her book about 4 years ago. I loved how she explains the difference between the fixed and growth mindsets.

    I tried to use her teachings on wording certain phrases while teaching my art students. I had hoped to make an impact the child’s learning and foster that growth mindset.

    I might have to read that book again, for my own growth. Thanks!

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Welcome, Kellie. Dweck’s book is an easy read, but very important message. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Bret

  2. Jesse Stoner says:

    Well done, Bret. I wonder how much is overconfidence (hubris) and how much due to thinking they’re supposed to have answers, even when they don’t. I do believe we spend too much time searching for answers when we should be searching for good questions.

    Bret L. Simmons Reply:

    Strongly concur, Jesse. Have you read Grant’s book Originals? On page 196 he describes an exercise he does with leaders. He puts up a question that says Don’t bring me ________, bring me __________. Most leaders answer “don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions”. Grant suggest a better response for leaders is “bring me problems!” Then lets work together to find the solutions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Bret