People like to think they're exceptional. Researchers call it illusory superiority. But being truly exceptional starts with recognizing your weaknesses and building strategies to overcome them.
As humans, we want to assume we are exceptional. Exceptional means we can take it easy, secure in our greatness. If we’re exceptional, then we don’t need to be better.
Business people are especially prone to fall into the trap of self-delusion. Whereas skill in quantifiable hard skills such as chess and poker is obvious (we either win or lose), skill in business and leadership is difficult to measure — and easy to overestimate.
In a study of Stanford University MBA students, 87 percent rated their academic performance as above average. In a study of over 1 million U.S. students, 70 percent stated that they possess better leadership skills than average. Strangest of all, 25 percent of students rated themselves in the top 1 percent in their ability to get along well with others.
That is not data error — it’s human error.
We as humans naturally assume that we are better than we are. Social psychologists call this cognitive bias illusory superiority. We are especially likely to fall prey to this bias in areas where skill is difficult to quantify, like management and leadership.
The truth is that being exceptional is a daily practice of growth. But we won't do the work of getting better if we believe the delusion that we're already great.
No matter how young or old you are, to be exceptional you must assume that you have unidentified weaknesses, seek them out and exert yourself every day to be better.
I think about this when evaluating my opportunities for improvement in process, efficiency and client satisfaction. I think about it in creating marketing strategies and executing effectively. I ask people to hold my feet to the fire.
You might be surprised if you try what I call my “Angry Investor Scenario.” It works like this: I ask you to imagine that you are the biggest investor in my company. You are telling my board of directors that I must go, because otherwise the company will crumble. What are the two biggest reasons that you give?