Bad Boss BS: “What do you believe in?”

In his great book ‘Think Again’ Adam Grant describes the confidence sweets-spot. It’s the perfect balance of confidence and humility. He uses a four-box grid to describe four types of behaviour you might experience, depending on your confidence.

A four box grid showing the relationship between confidence in yourself and confidence in “tools” (skills or others). These affect our levels of certainty and security and can lead to the four behaviours described in the article.

The ego-laden boss usually falls into the trap of blind arrogance. Blind Arrogance is the blind spot created by the ego. Self- confidence switches off the analytical part of the brain. They’ve so much faith in themselves, they don’t even need confidence in their tools, skills or the people around them — they literally just rely on themselves. It can make them blind to their failings and miss what other people could bring to situations and challenges.

The blindly arrogant will often leap to action too quickly. Their faith in themselves spurs them forward to make mistakes and ignore the consequences and their culpability. The opposite to this is ‘Debilitating Doubt’. Here the boss doesn’t have enough confidence in themselves. But they know enough about situations and the tools at their disposal to know what could go wrong. They fixate on this, doubting themselves and delaying. They might delegate — putting pressure on those around them to pick up the pieces. And they’ll likely become an immovable blocker as, though they trust the recommendations of others, they lack the personal confidence to take the plunge into decision-making and action.

Grant describes the perfect combination of confidence and doubt as ‘confident humility’. Here we see a balance of self-confidence and confidence in tools and other people. This mixture of security and certainty literally expands the range of possibilities the boss is likely to see in situations. They don’t only rely on themselves. But they do have the confidence to narrow options and take decisions and action.

Someone exhibiting confident humility will recognise their own level of expertise in a situation and be able to accurately assess the required knowledge and skills. They’ll seek expert help when they need it and put in the work to expand their expertise — having the confidence to carry them through the inevitable setbacks they’ll face as they learn.

In contrast to confident humility, some bosses can be crippled with a debilitating sense of inferiority. This lack of belief locks people into a paralysis caused by doubt. Lots of the time, this can feel like the most corrosive form of imposter syndrome — the phenomena of competent people underestimating their skills, knowledge or abilities. Imposter syndrome can strike anyone, and bosses are no exception. So tomorrow I’ll be writing about the imposter phenomenon in bosses.



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I'm a Creative director at the BBC. I like words, design, data and magic. These are all my own views (apart from retweets. I borrowed those to look clever.)