The Dunning-Kruger Effect at Work

Before we talk about terrible bosses let’s talk about terrible singers. Have you ever watched one of those singing competitions? You’ll hear an audition that sounds like a catfight on a chalkboard and think, “Does this girl seriously think she has a chance in hell to win!?”

Turns out that tone deaf contestant may very well think her singing skills are superb. It’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is defined this way: “A cognitive bias in which relatively unskilled persons suffer illusory superiority mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than it actually is.”

Dunning-Kruger Effect explains what’s happening when a student thinks they’ve done really well on a test but in fact has done quite poorly. The same skills that were used to take the test are used to assess their own performance on the test. S/He is consistently less skilled than S/He believes her/himself to be whether taking the test or speculating on how well they did on the test.

Back to the terrible boss. They think they’re a good manager, but is wrong. Because they think they are  good at leading, they are less likely to seek out professional development opportunities to improve performance. Dunning-Kruger can also explain the inability to assess the performance of others accurately.

So how can this information make you feel better? Often the frustration of having a bad manager stems from the idea that they are trying to make your life miserable while willfully disregarding their own shortcomings. If this Effect is in place, they may truly have no idea how bad they really are. Small comfort perhaps, but some comfort nonetheless.

Useful? There's more where that came from.

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