A Strength When Overused

Posted 08.08.2011

Bicep1 One of the great truisms in leadership coaching is that a strength when overused becomes a weakness. For example, the strength of confidence, when overused, looks like arrogance. The overconfident leader is so convinced of his or her world view that they quit questioning, listening or observing anything that might challenge it.

This idea is on my mind this morning for a couple of reasons. First, like many Americans and people around the world, I’ve watched dumbfounded these past few weeks as overconfident politicians were willing to take our economy to the brink in service of a worldview. The second reason is a New York Times book review I read over the weekend on The Theory That Would Not Die: How Bayes' Rule Cracked the Enigma Code, Hunted Down Russian Submarines, and Emerged Triumphant from Two Centuries of Controversy.

If you’re mathematically inclined, you’ll enjoy the review. I’m not, but I did anyway. Here’s my big take away from the review by John Allen Paulos. Paulos writes that Bayes’ theorem comes down to three questions:

  • “How confident am I in the truth of my initial belief?
  • On the assumption that my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate?
  • And whether or not my original belief is true, how confident am I that the new evidence is accurate?”

Those seem like three very good questions for leaders to regularly ask themselves.  What difference would it make to the quality of your decisions and the impact of your leadership if you and your team asked those questions on a regular basis? What other questions should you be asking yourself to make sure your strength of confidence is not tipping into arrogance?