Sure, Jim Collins tells us that humble leaders do the greatest things. But a quick look around confirms that we prefer self-promoters. It takes me exactly 6 sentences to lay out both how and why humility will kill your career here (p. 52). Now, scientists have confirmed it, too.
(Welcome to the party, boys.)
Of course, put our preference for confidence together with my new favorite rule of human nature, the Dunning-Kruger effect, and we’ve got troubles. The Dunning-Kruger effect, or what I like to call the Law of Ignorance, states that the least capable among us are the ones most likely to overestimate their abilities. And when you put our predisposition to respond favorably to confidence together with the fact that the least capable amongst us often project the most confidence, you’ve got a recipe for big, big trouble.
Good thing I’m here to solve your problems. See, if you didn’t have access to me—brilliant, experienced, and charming, to boot—you’d be lost in the woods, caught between fools who fancy themselves experts and experts who can sound like fools when they speak. Don’t worry, I know what to do. All you have to do is listen to me and you’ll become one of the many success stories I’ve help architect over the past decade.
OK… time out.
For those of you who read my stuff regularly, you know this is the part of the article where I typically pull some sort of perspective-bending turnabout, and let you all in on the joke I’ve been setting up.
The thing is… there’s no turnabout here.
Not this time.
I’d love to laugh about it, but the Dunning-Kruger Effect is no joke. It costs me business, and when it does, it costs that client time, money, and opportunity. Because after 10 years of grinding it out as a consultant—and longer than that as a manager—forcing myself to listen to my own feedback, earning referrals, trusting my judgment in the face of others’ doubts, and discovering that far more often than not, I am vindicated in time when I do, I have learned something: I’m very good at what I do. You may not like what I have to say, but I’ve seen enough to know my reads on people are good, and my career strategies work. Well.
This is your job, your career, and your success we’re talking about. And while I’m not nearly as charming as I like to imagine at times, I do know my craft.
I wish Dunning-Kruger was a nothing phenomenon, that building the better mousetrap were enough. That’s my wish. Until it comes true, I can’t take chances. Neither can you.
And for heaven’s sake, this is about more than your decision to engage a consultant or a speaker! If you take one thing from this article, it should be this: don’t expect others to recognize your value unaided. Human nature is flawed. You’re going to have to be great and be confident. You’re going to have to sell.
Jason Seiden is CEO of Ajax Workforce Marketing. Ajax amplifies brands by aligning employees' online messaging.