Bosses overestimate their management skills

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Bosses who think they’re the next Jack Welch might want to reassess their talent level.

A new survey of 1,100 frontline managers suggests many are overestimating their skills, with surprisingly little doubt. Seventy-two percent said they never questioned their ability to lead others during their first year as a manager.

Managers were also unlikely to rate themselves as weak in a number of leadership attributes, such as planning, communication and adaptability, according to research from consulting firm Development Dimensions International Inc.

According to the survey, front-line managers believe their greatest strengths lie in setting work standards as well as planning and organizing.

The skills they said they needed to work on the most were delegation, coaching, and engagement, but no more than 15% of managers named any of these as an “area of ​​development.”

“It doesn’t matter what industry you work in. People have blind spots when it comes to their pain points,” says Scott Erker, senior vice president at DDI, who conducted the survey in September.

The company separately compared some managers’ self-assessments to performance in a business simulation that attempted to mimic the real-world challenges leaders might face. They found that managers consistently overestimated their delegation and coaching abilities, Erker says.

On the other hand, the company found no consistent pattern of “hidden strengths” or areas where managers underestimated their skills, he says.

One problem: When workers become managers, they’re often surrounded by employees who flatter them to please their boss, said Jeffrey Pfeffer, a Stanford business professor and author of the book “Power.”

“People also don’t understand the feedback they receive. Either they hear the wrong or they choose not to hear the criticism,” he said.

Still, at least some frontline managers have doubts. About 26% of front-line managers said they regret being promoted at least sometimes in their first year, according to the DDI study. Fifteen percent said their interest in the manager position had declined since their promotion.

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