Narcissistic boss: Why leaders often overestimate themselves

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If you lack information, you need a certain understanding to see it at all. If this knowledge of their ignorance is missing, it may quickly happen that the person in question is overestimating himself.

That is why many incompetent people trust their own competence and underestimate the achievements of others.

Astrid Schutz, professor of personality psychology, says this phenomenon is common among people in leadership positions. Because such posts will attract people with narcissistic traits.

“I know I know nothing.” With this statement, the Greek philosopher Socrates went down in history. His punishment represents something like the epitome of wisdom. And this is despite the fact that Socrates simply admitted that he had no idea about most things.

But that is exactly what is needed Self-awareness and prudence. “In order to be able to evaluate what I do not understand, I need extensive and well-founded knowledge”And Astrid Schutz says. She is a professor of personality at the University of Bamberg, and one of her research axes is the human image of oneself and the image of others. If you think more about what Schutz says, it means that incompetent people often lack the necessary knowledge to realize what they cannot and what they do not know. As a result, they tend to overestimate themselves – and even deny the skills of other people who are truly competent.

Narcissists are more likely to end up in leadership positions than others

The first research results came from American psychologists David Dunning and Justin Krueger. This phenomenon is named after them and is now known as the “Dunning-Kruger effect”. The study, which the two researchers published in 2007, was entitled: “Why do the unskilled do not know?”

You have no idea, but consider yourself the best or the greatest: When you hear that, do you need to think of your boss right away? Perhaps this is not unjustified. Because leadership positions often attract people who tend to exaggerate themselves. Astrid Schutz says narcissists are particularly vulnerable to this.

Astrid Schutz is Professor of Personality Psychology.

Astrid Schutz is Professor of Personality Psychology.
David Egger

“There are preliminary findings that narcissists are more likely than others to end up in management positions,” the psychologist says. “Because narcissism is connected with the pursuit of power, with the idea of ​​being ‘better’ than others, and with the fact that narcissists often impress them at first sight.” Unfortunately, she says, narcissists are also poor leaders. American psychologists were also able to show this in a study. Schutz explains that much of what is required of bosses today is difficult for narcissists: empathizing with their employees, for example, or discussing things with their team on an equal footing.

By the way, overconfidence is often accompanied by another phenomenon that Astrid Schutz is currently looking for. It’s called the “illusion of explanatory depth.” If you ask, ‘Do you know how a refrigerator works? Most people would probably say, ‘Yes, right! “It’s because they use their fridge every day and because they have a rough idea of ​​how it works.” Most of us have no idea about the complex process behind it, Schutz says. So we often think we understand something — but that understanding is superficial.

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Just as some people think they know how a refrigerator works, many CEOs think they know the details of what their employees do throughout the day. “We assume that power favors such illusions and overconfidence,” Schutz explains. “Once someone takes a management position, they take the risk of thinking: ‘Obviously what my team has to do! It’s not that hard! ”

According to Schutz, this is basically what executives say, who, in their overconfidence, have lost sight of the complexity of their employees’ tasks in reality. “A lot of bosses like this really think they’re their best employee — and have trouble delegating,” says Astrid Schutz.

These managers have a negative impact on motivation in the team. “It’s very frustrating for employees when managers keep pushing, checking everything and thinking they know better,” Astrid Schutz says. “This is a problematic understanding of leadership.”

Give more feedback, but do it right

By the way, one of the reasons managers misjudge themselves in their environment: many of them have a problem with feedback. “As a general rule, executives receive very little credible feedback,” says Astrid Schutz. You notice this over and over, especially when you offer corporate training. “Colleagues are often competitors and have their own interests,” Schutz says. “Team members who work under the manager’s direction often give flowery feedback because they don’t dare criticize them.” The result of this culture is often bewilderment from managers who ask themselves: “It’s funny – why do so many people quit?”

So feel free to give feedback to your superiors more often – but do it right. This means: Don’t turn offensive at first. Astrid Schutz says that a narcissistic boss who overestimates himself will react to this with a protective response. “We all tend to be self-serving,” she says. “No one wants to think they are stupid or incompetent.”

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A good manager knows the limits of his competence

Instead try ‘leading from below’. “Employees can certainly influence their bosses,” says Astrid Schutz. The best thing to do is try to understand your manager’s goals — and then discuss them. Astrid Schutz explains, “Let’s say a manager really wants to stand out with a great and productive management that he’s running.” “Then you should take it as an employee and say, ‘I have an idea how our department could be better.'” You can also argue that happy employees are more productive.

You can also tell that you are dealing with a really good manager by the fact that he – just like Socrates – knows and recognizes the limits of his competence. “Good managers accept that their team members are more efficient than themselves in certain areas,” says Astrid Schutz. Above all, a good manager must see the big picture, bring the team together, communicate and motivate goals. Know and be able to do everything? You don’t have to.

This article originally appeared on Business Insider in June 2020. It has now been reviewed and updated.

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