The key to success is hard work, or is it?

We all know people who progress, or are thought of as the top performers, when they aren’t quite all they seem to be. They claim the successes but never seem to be responsible when something goes wrong.

Sometimes it’s those who are fairly average that thrive because they make more noise and get noticed. When promoting or rewarding, managers can become blinded by charismatic displays of overconfidence while the quiet stars in the corner get overlooked.

Research has found that most people tend to overestimate their own abilities, with those of lesser skill more likely to have an inflated sense of their own abilities, tackling tasks in a blissful state of overconfidence.

This phenomenon is known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. It describes how the incompetent are not only bad at the task at hand, but can be so bad that they’re blind to their own ineptitude.


Confidence implies competence

In politics it's well documented that we gravitate towards confident, charismatic leaders. Psychologists studying influence often talk about competence cues. These are signs that the person in front of us knows what they are talking about, such as speaking opinions loudly and without hesitation. We read body language as a sign of competence as well, such as emphatic gestures when making points and appearing at ease with tasks.


The mistake that managers make

Whether or not someone succeeds can often depend on unconscious bias which can cause us to make decisions in favour of certain people, regardless of their shortcomings. Although we like to think we're open-minded, research consistently shows we're biased when selecting other people to employ or promote. In most cases, we're likely to have a more favourable opinion of people we perceive to be similar to us.


How managers can create a culture where results win through

It’s important for managers to recognise their own biases to avoid rewarding the mediocre. We should think carefully about whether a ‘good feeling’ about someone is because they deserve it and can it be backed up with concrete evidence, or is a natural but harmful bias.

Managers need to ensure there's clarity around roles and responsibilities and that they have effective ways of assessing performance through a range of formal and informal measures such as objectives, targets, ongoing feedback and observation.

The most effective leaders create a culture of diversity and inclusion, allowing everyone to have a voice and affording everyone the same opportunities.

Recognition should be based on fact not noise.


Further information

Managing and Appraising Performance

Developing Winning Teams

Organisational Leadership Skills