How accurately do you estimate your ability as a leader? Do you think too highly of yourself, not highly enough, or about right?
Recently I came across the concept of “illusory superiority.” Illusory superiority is “a cognitive bias that causes people to overestimate their positive qualities and abilities and to underestimate their negative qualities, relative to others… [It is also called] the ‘Lake Wobegon effect’ (named after Garrison Keillor’s fictional town where ‘all the children are above average’).”
According to the research, 80% of drivers will rate themselves as above average. Other research demonstrates the same lopsidedness in people’s estimation of their own teaching ability, IQ, test scores, memory, job performance, relational capacity, punctuality, sensitivity, consistency, popularity, health, and more. Frighteningly, only 18% of drivers believe they are below average drivers while using a phone for texting or email.
Of course, the simple statistical fact is that only 50% of people are above average in anything! Ironically, people also tend to consider themselves less “susceptible to bias” than other people. We’re not only out of touch with reality – we also pat ourselves on the back for how “in touch” we are!
This shouldn’t surprise us since the Scriptures teach that we are inherently prone to both self-deception and pride.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Jer. 17:9-10)
The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end? (Jer. 5:31)
…There is no fear of God before their eyes. In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin. The words of their mouths are wicked and deceitful; they fail to act wisely or do good. Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course and do not reject what is wrong. (Ps. 36:1-4)
Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers” (Matt. 7:21-23)
You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. (Rev. 3:17)
In Christ, we are made new in His image but this is a daily growth toward maturity – it does not happen instantly.
So it’s no wonder that many Christian leaders believe that various mistakes and failures only happen to average or below average leaders and that they themselves are immune to the types of problems that have plagued leaders for centuries. It comes naturally for us to assume that spiritual burnout, doctrinal error, relational failure, crippling or even fatal stress-induced physical collapse, moral compromise, etc. only happen to “other, weaker” leaders.
The simple fact is: you’re probably not better than most other leaders!
The first task of the leader is to face reality – including reality about himself. Now, again, how accurately do you estimate your ability as a leader?
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. (1 Tim. 4:16)
- Think about your past life and ministry – what specific negative situations could been avoided by a more accurate understanding of yourself?
- In what ways did God speak to you before or during those times (perhaps through His Word, through the words of others, inwardly by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, or through circumstances) but you didn’t listen?
- What accountability do you need in your life to avoid self-deception in the future and what will you do in order to get it?