How Leaders Can Balance Confidence and Humility

Elizabeth Morrison
Quote icon
Given the relative ease with which perspective taking interventions can be implemented, we believe organizations can cheaply nudge their employees or leaders to engage in more feedback seeking.
By Elizabeth Morrison and Elad Sherf
Knowing how well you are performing at work is often difficult. To accurately assess your own performance, you typically need information from others, information which is not often voluntarily provided. Because of this, academics and practitioners advise employees and managers to seek feedback from others. Extensive organizational research supports the benefits of such direct feedback seeking and documents its positive effects on performance, evaluations of effectiveness by key internal stakeholders, and creativity.       

Yet, evidence suggests that people do not often follow the advice to seek feedback. For example, a study comparing a host of proactive work behaviors found feedback-seeking to be the least frequently reported of those behaviors. Similarly, in an assessment of supervisors, the statement: “… asks for feedback on how his/her actions affect other people’s performance” received the lowest frequency rating among 30 other managerial behaviors.

Why don’t people seek feedback from others? One likely explanation has to do with people’s sense of self-efficacy, or their confidence in their ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish specific tasks. Accepted wisdom suggests that people with lower self-efficacy have more fragile egos compared to those with higher self-efficacy, which means they are more likely to worry about hearing negative information regarding the self or appearing incompetent or uncertain in the eyes of others. As a result, people with less confidence in their abilities are expected to not ask for feedback, whereas more confident people are expected to do so more frequently. 

Read the full HR People + Strategy article.
Elizabeth Morrison is a Professor in the Management and Organizations Department and the ITT Harold Geneen Professor in Creative Management.