A recent survey of frontline managers demonstrates a disturbing lack of self-doubt about their capacity to lead. In fact, 72% of the 1,100 managers surveyed indicate they have never questioned their ability to be an effective leader. While some may regard self-doubt as a liability, in moderation it helps motivate us to realistically assess our competencies and learn new skills.
The survey, which was conducted by Development Dimensions International and reported in The Wall Street Journal, asked frontline managers to self-rate their skills in a number of key leadership areas. Overall, the vast majority of survey participants rated themselves as “proficient” or “strong” in ten key leader attributes, including planning, decision-making, communication, coaching and delegating, among others. When asked to identified areas for further development, no more than 15% did so, suggesting that they believe they “already know it all.” These results were consistent across a variety of business areas.
Leadership experts have long argued that self-awareness (including self-doubt) should be viewed as a pivotal mental capacity at all levels of management. Self-awareness is a key element of emotional intelligence, which has been strongly associated with leader effectiveness. To develop greater self-awareness, we need accurate and timely feedback, which is why more organizations are using employee surveys and 360-degree feedback programs to inform managers about how they are perceived by others, particularly their immediate reports and peers.
However, in the absence of high quality feedback, managers often receive an over-abundance of positive input about their performance. This can arrive in the form of flattery from employees who are “kissing up,” as well as the absence of constructive criticism from those who are afraid they will be marginalized or punished for being candid. What’s more, few managers actively pursue feedback from those they lead, and when they do receive constructive criticism or suggestions for improvement, they often dismiss the “messenger” as a malcontent or someone with a hidden agenda.
Bottom Line: Candid, constructive feedback is essential for managerial success and skill development. Effective feedback mechanisms in tandem with ongoing leader coaching may offer a helpful antidote for the “blind spots” than many managers suffer.