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Leading Blog: Do You Have Moral Overconfidence?


Do You Have Moral Overconfidence?

Posted: 14 Nov 2011 04:59 PM PST

In a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article, Harvard Business School Dean, Nitin Nohria stated that because we all suffer from "moral overconfidence," the most important thing business schools could be teaching is humility. He writes:
Many people view "character" as an immutable trait formed during childhood and adolescence. I believe character development is similar to the development of knowledge or wisdom—it's a lifelong process. The world isn't neatly divided into good people and bad people. Most will behave well or poorly, depending on the context….Business leaders need to remember that most of us have too much confidence in our strength of character.
Nohria is exactly correct. Good leadership is humble leadership. Humility is living in truth. The truth about our limitations and an understanding our proper relationship with others. And do we share with each other a moral overconfidence—a certain naiveté about ourselves that carries with it the seeds of our own destruction.

Humility gives us a better understanding of how we are to treat each other. Without it we operate from only one perspective—our own. This kills influence. As leaders, we are to work with people, not over them. It is far too tempting to think hierarchically and not relationally.

In Leading Without Power, Max De Pree says that "Leaders belong to their followers." Too many leaders try to create a buffer between themselves and their followers, when instead, they need to be leading from among their followers. A humble leader will close the gap between themselves and others.

Humility manifests itself in understanding the need to learn. Authority disciplined by humility is teachable. It is arrogant to think that once we have the position or a title, we've arrived. We never arrive. It is merely an opportunity to learn from another perspective. If you stop learning, you stop leading. It's something we need to stay on top of because if we don't, life has a way of bringing us up short in an effort to get us to wake-up and start learning. Leadership has a way of revealing our weaknesses.

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