Pros and Cons of Accurate Self-Awareness with Dean “The Grinder” Sanderson


My favorite new show season has been The Grinder. Starring Rob Lowe and Fred Savage, it follows a triumphantly successful actor who returns to his hometown after years of portraying a lawyer on a fictitious television show. His acting experience has somehow given him the idea he is qualified to work in his family’s real-life law firm.

The premise The Grinder may seem unlikely, but is it? How often do overly confidently yet obliviously under qualified people rise in the ranks? Recent research explored this very topic to determine the effect self-awareness has on leadership.

In a study of 69,000 managers utilizing 360-degree feedback of 750,000 respondents, leaders’ views of themselves didn’t generally fit with how other people perceived them. This may not be surprising; after all, it is not uncommon to have a misaligned view of ourselves. What is surprising is that a leader who possesses a highly accurate view of their abilities does not necessarily result in higher ratings of leadership. In an unexpected finding,

…the most effective leaders did not have the highest level of self-awareness. Indeed, the more they underrated themselves, the more highly they were perceived as leaders.

The leadership study also found that those with more underrated skill areas were perceived as being twice as effective as those with more overrated areas—underrated leaders were seen as having a higher probability of strengths and a lower probability of fatal flaws. This then resulted in a more engaged workforce.

This coincides with another study where therapists who doubted themselves appeared to be more effective at helping their clients. A combination of professional self-doubt and personal self-compassion led to a more open, self-reflective stance thus allowing the therapist to appreciate the complexity of their work while remaining more flexible in their strategies.

The advantages to underrating yourself may stem from an increased sense of humility, higher standards, a lack of self-satisfaction, and/or a drive towards perfection. These are all areas where we have some control. They are directly linked to success in leadership and in life and, since there is no end-goal, each merits continuous work. It is like Dean Sanderson said on an episode of The Grinder,

What makes the Grinder, the Grinder, is that he never gets by on just being the Grinder, he proves it. Every second, every day, with every decision.

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