The Goff Strategic Leadership Center theorizes that successful strategic leaders demonstrate skills across six specific dimensions (what we refer to as the Six Principles of Strategic Leadership). This model of leadership indicates that competence in these six areas contributes to high levels of individual, team, and organizational success. Research conducted by faculty at the University of Utah provides insights into each of these principles, and describes specific strategies for how leaders can apply these principles.
Among other things, the Six Principles of Strategic Leadership model asserts that strategic leaders should be skilled in creating and sharing a compelling vision for their organization – and that this vision should be ambitious and involve some risk. Dr. Elizabeth Tenney, a Goff faculty fellow and assistant professor in the management department at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business, conducts research on the implications of overconfidence when communicating ambitious visions of success.
We often equate confidence with leadership ability. After all, how can a leader rally people around a vision if the leader doesn’t even seem to believe in it? But confidence can be deceptive, and leaders who exhibit confidence without corresponding competence (that is, who exhibit overconfidence) can either lead their organization astray or later damage their credibility when their overconfidence is revealed. Tenney’s research focuses on the nuances of overconfidence and its effects on teams and organizations. She notes that overconfident leaders who consistently make high-risk decisions may create a culture of overconfidence in their organizations. Often, this culture fosters unhealthy, uninformed decisions that may force an organization to move forward without acknowledging warning signs or considering alternatives. Leaders may fall into the trap of feeling that they must be assertive at all times – but they ultimately risk losing trust, disregarding risk parameters, or creating an unhealthy organizational culture.
Additionally, while a leader oozing confidence may initially rally more people around them, they may not ultimately be able to deliver on the vision they’ve communicated. Trust will be broken when it comes to light that the leader was wrong, misinformed, or communicated a faulty vision. Knowing this, how can a conscientious leader be persuasive, maintain a healthy organizational culture, and protect their reputation when communicating an ambitious vision for future success that also involves risk?
The research conducted by Tenney and her team reveals implications for leaders who want to effectively gain buy-in while also maintaining their own long-term credibility. In order to maintain their own trustworthiness, leaders should communicate using strong non-verbal signs of confidence (good eye contact, loud and clear speech, and a confident posture), while using language that is calibrated to be convincing yet not excessively confident – that is, language that still acknowledges clear risks. This is an important consideration for strategic leaders who are tasked with communicating ambitious visions of success to internal and external stakeholders. By leveraging non-verbal confidence indicators while using more moderated language, leaders will be best able to gain and ultimately maintain trust when charting the course for their teams or organizations.
Read more about Tenney’s research on overconfidence here.