Click here for Tony Mayo's podcastThis common psychological error leads to blame and stagnation. Here’s how to notice it & avoid it.

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Thanks to MusicOpen for providing public domain recordings of Beethoven.



Hello. I’m Tony Mayo, the Business Owner’s Executive Coach … with one quick idea you can use in your business …today.

I’m an above average driver. You probably consider yourself an above average driver, too. Chances are that at least one of us is wrong. Why do I believe that? Because surveys show that almost everyone thinks their driving skills are above the average. Based upon what I see on the streets, the average skill level is pretty low. Still, half of us must be even worse than that low average. I’m guessing it’s you.

This pervasive sense of superiority among ordinary drivers is so illogical that it’s funny. And, it’s scary. Because we are all so sure that we are better drivers than most everyone else, we do two harmful things. First, we automatically blame traffic incidents on other drivers, avoiding personal responsibility and further alienating ourselves from others. Second, and much more dangerous, our smug self-evaluations mean that we do nothing to improve our skill at the life and death job of piloting large machines at high speeds.

This phenomenon, this error of thought, is so typical of us humans that it has a fancy name, the Dunning Kruger effect. People with low skills in a domain tend to overestimate their abilities in that domain, possibly because their skill level is so low that they don’t even know what high skill looks like.

I was sure I was an Excel expert until I saw someone doing things I had no concept of. I studied and worked at it and got much better even than that fellow was and —as I learned a more and more about making Excel bend to my will— I became ever more convinced that I was not that great at it. As I stood on higher ground I saw much further there was to go. And, that insight further motivated me to study, practice, and ask for help. It seems that, the better you are at anything, the more aware you are of how much better someone could be. This modesty is useful, as it makes us ever more willing to seek and accept help. This is why the best seem to get better and better.

There is a downside to this modesty, however.

Some years ago, I had a bad exit from a company I was running. I found myself with too much time on my hands and too many bills on my back. I asked my coach to help me choose and purse a short-term income opportunity while I searched for my next big project.

He immediately suggested that I work as a part-time CFO. He said, “We both know lots of people who need help managing the financial aspects of their businesses. Their accountants prepare statements and tax returns, but they aren’t getting actionable insights and ideas like they would from a CFO, from someone like you.”

“I can’t do that,” I protested. “I’m no finance expert. I got my MBA at Chicago Booth. I know what a finance expert looks like [chuckle] and I’ve never seen one in my mirror.”

My coach patiently explained that he wasn’t talking about Wall Street finance but the operations of owner-operated businesses. “I’ve seen you help every member of our mastermind group with financial analysis and ideas. You’re an expert in what our friends need.”

I took his advice, gave some people a lot of help, and covered my expenses while I launched my next business. You see, I knew so much about finance that it seemed obvious to me. Since it was obvious to me, I assumed it was obvious to most people. Worse, since it was easy for me, I didn’t think people would pay for it.

That’s the other side of the Dunning Kruger effect. Highly skilled people forget that others may not have that same skill. Time and again, I have seen people struggle to select an appropriate career or miss great opportunities because the skills required felt so natural and easy to them that they didn’t seem valuable in the marketplace.

I urge you to watch out for this fallacy in your own thinking. As soon as you discount the value of something that seems easy for you —whether it is organizing a spreadsheet, making strangers comfortable, or seeing exactly where the new sofa should go— check-in with others… to see if the same task is hard or unpleasant for them. If it is, you may have found a career where you can contribute tremendous value without knocking yourself out. Because, it’s easier to ride the horse in the direction it’s going.

Since you are listening to this podcast, I’ll bet that you are an above average leader. How do I know that? Not because my coaching is so effective, though I’m sure it is way above average in quality and usefulness. But simply because by listening to this, you show that you care enough about leadership …to learn and to get better at leading your business.

That separates you from the …mediocre pack. Just by taking a significant action to get better, you get better. Keep taking those actions: studying, asking, and experimenting, and you’ll become way above average.

Just don’t lose the modesty that spurs your urge to learn and grow. Immodesty is the path to mediocrity. And, don’t let that healthy modesty keep you from stepping into leadership. You’re better at it than most people and the world needs more competent leaders. Especially modest ones.

Thanks for listening to this podcast. I hope you enjoyed it, that you apply it, and …share it.