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Illusory Superiority in Job Performance

In a 2001 study, 87% of Stanford University MBA students believed their performance was above the median. Only 10% believed they were below average.

I have two types of clients. The first type of client comes to me with their own free will. These people are well-educated, generally successful, and motivated. However, these clients know they are lacking in their performance. They are fully aware that they need to step up their game to achieve their specific goals.

Then, I have clients who are referred or sent to me by their bosses for a poor performance. These clients are well-educated, generally successful, and for the most part, motivated. These clients think they are doing their very best and still can’t seem to get along well with others at work. The majority of these clients are experiencing illusory superiority.

Illusory Superiority is a cognitive bias when somebody thinks their skills, abilities, or performance are superior to “average” others, when they are not. Such individuals fail to recognize their incompetence in those areas and need guidance to realize their shortcomings.

Evidence of Illusory Superiority can be found in:

  1. Micro-managing others.

  2. Biased criticisms in others performances

  3. Failing to perform yet overrates their performance

  4. Manipulating performance data

  5. Ignoring objective criticism from colleagues, management, and clients.

  6. Possesses an inability to critique their own work during performance reviews.

These types of employees are often assets to their organization,  however other employees become affected by clashes created by the aforementioned descriptions.

How can you tell your employees are affected by such a person?

Some symptoms are:

  1. Employees ignoring or avoiding the person in question.

  2. Calling in sick.

  3. Engaging in gossip and/or complaining about the employee.

  4. Overall performance from the team is suffering because of a lack of teamwork.

  5. Giving up on trying to solve work related problems with the employee.

Some managers choose to move employees in question to other departments despite the fact that this decision doesn’t help the employee improve their performance. Some are so desperate that they choose to fire their employee despite the high cost of severance pay and recruiting a new employee. There are some alternatives:

What are ways to help this employee?

  1. Performance Coaching – Accomplishing professional objectives

  2. 360 degree feedback – Assessing relationships between employees

  3. Behavioral coaching – Changing negative workplace behaviors

  4. Performance Appraisals – Assessing actual performance

Employees with Illusory Superiority can eventually improve workplace relationships and improve their own performance. Guidance within an environment committed to fostering self-understanding and professional harmony within the group can make for an amazing turn around in performance and relations.

Sources: “It’s Academic.” 2000. Stanford GSB Reporter, April 24, pp.14-S.


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