Jan has been offered the role of Director of Diversity & Inclusion (DI) at a large software firm. She holds a doctorate degree in organizational development, and is a friend of a member of the hiring team. She starts this new position by scheduling informal meetings with her aides. It is her goal to implement necessary changes to policies and procedures for her business unit as soon as she is able. She is quite confident that she can change the current face of the organization based on her educational background and recent research study.
However, results from the meetings, thus far, have produce no action plans. Likewise, it has become apparent that Jan is not aware, or better said, she is not familiar with the everyday jargon used in DI engagements or human resource processes. Three months into her new position, still, there have been no improvements relating to organizational policies and employee trainings. Yet, Jan continues to believe that she is the right person for the job, and when questioned about her day-to-day activities, this is often her usual response.
“Based on my education and experience, I am the only one who can get this done.”
What we have here folks, is a clear example of the Dunning-Kruger Effect (DKE). DKE was first introduced in a 1999 research investigation completed by Professors Justin Kruger and David Dunning. The study was called Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One’s Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments. It is a psychological term, which refers to people who are oblivious of their abilities. What is interesting about this cognitive bias is that most who carry this demeanor often believe that their skills are superior in nature, when in fact, they are not. The reverse of DKE in motion is that people who are highly accomplished in a certain topic, such as, say public speaking, often expect that those around them should be equally skilled. Dunning and Kruger explained these two frameworks as smoke-screened interpretation of the inept that often stems from an error about the self, whereas, the grandeur beliefs of the highly proficient stems from an error about others.
DKE poses a challenging construct for today’s leaders, specifically since it can appear in two domains. In many I-O psychology consultancies I have held, what I have surveyed is that underperformance or DKE traits of specific employees often exist in an organization’s inability to clearly define job roles and responsibilities. The notion of climbing-up-the-ladder as quickly as possible, may also propel DKE in some individuals. In fact, as I dug deeper into understanding the results of this research, Dunning and Kruger shared this:
“the skills that engender competence in particular domain are the same skills necessary to evaluate incompetence in the same domain–one’s own, our anyone else’s” (p.1121)
The questions we must ask here are: how can we become better leaders to grow the cognitive abilities of our employees toward the production of accurate competencies? And, are we just as incompetent while transmitting illusionary thought about our own capabilities?
In forthcoming articles I will dissect these questions, while divulging areas where way-forward could reside. Until then, I leave with you a bit of dated, nonetheless, significant ponderance, in verse:
~ Rev. M. Charlotte Oliver
***Pseudonyms have been used in this article***