Article: Leaders, inclusiveness and the Dunning-Kruger effect


Leaders, inclusiveness and the Dunning-Kruger effect

Leaders are expected to be inclusive. However, the ones incompetent at valuing diversity and inclusion suffer from the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. This experimental analysis of 4000 leaders in a firm reveals some intriguing findings
Leaders, inclusiveness and the Dunning-Kruger effect

“Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people of low ability suffer from illusory superiority. They mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is. The cognitive bias of illusory superiority derives from the metacognitive inability of low-ability persons to recognize their own ineptitude. Without the self-awareness of metacognition, low-ability people cannot objectively evaluate their actual competence or incompetence.” This is how Wikipedia defines the popular psychological phenomenon of illusory superiority. For someone who grapples with comprehending complex psychology terminology, this concept implies that unskilled people are more susceptible to believe they are much more skilled than they actually are. And the reason they stay in this illusion is because they do not have the requisite skill to objectively evaluate their abilities. To visualize how this phenomenon works in principle, just imagine a teammate, who acts like a know-it-all and superior to all her teammates, but is incompetent and incapable of doing the most basic of assignments.

 The same can be applied to how leaders perceive their inclusiveness, according to a research by a leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman. The researchers selected a diverse organization for their analysis. They drew insights from the data recorded in the 360-degree feedback assessments for around 4000 leaders. Their principal finding was that leaders are not good at self-assessment on the inclusion parameter. The ones who were less inclusive rated themselves highly. Not only that, the ones who were highly inclusive, underestimated themselves, and their self-assessment was somewhat subdued. The benchmarking was done against how their direct reports saw their inclusiveness as. What this research proves is that leaders are not the best at self-assessing themselves when it comes to their diversity and inclusion effectiveness. The good ones underestimating themselves is one thing; but when the poorest fail to see they have a problem and to the contrary, end up over-estimating themselves, then it is not a good sign for the organization.

The idea of diversity and inclusion has also been observed to be not taken too seriously sometimes by managers, even if it has emerged as a top business priority (atleast in principle) in recent years. But those people, are more than likely, to have a lower leadership effectiveness index, if their inclusiveness is low. The analysis done by Zenger/Folkman has found out that the leaders who had poor ratings when it comes to valuing diversity and inclusion, also scored low in their overall leadership effective index. They were rated in only the 15th percentile for their overall leadership effectiveness. The leaders who were recorded to value diversity and inclusion highly, were found to be better leaders, as per the analysis done by the researchers.

If the analysis is looked at closely, one can notice that as the diversity and inclusion percentile, the leadership effectiveness percentile also increases. This implies that valuing diversity and inclusion is directly proportional to a leader’s effectiveness.

In their pursuit to be better leaders, they need to up their value for propagating diversity in the firm, and ensuring the diverse group feels inclusive. Demographic diversity is still comparatively easier to achieve, maintain, and measure. Even for biased hiring managers, easy fixes like blind auditions or anonymized resumes are available as options. It is the deep-level diversity or cognitive diversity that is extremely hard to penetrate, sustain, and keep a track of. Luckily for the human resources function, there are means to measure leadership effectiveness at deep-level diversity and inclusion. A smartly-deployed 360 degree feedback (with appropriate questions and options for responses) can give a complete and honest picture about a leader’s effectiveness at inclusion. Throw in technological tools like sensors in the mix, and it can be documented whether the leader made contact with a diverse group of people, whether she gave them equal time, was she biased in her conversations with them.

Maybe leaders need to be taught about the Dunning–Kruger Effect, and how it is impairing the judgment of a few of them – the only downside is that some of them may not be able to understand it because of their “illusory superiority.”

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Topics: Leadership

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