Another choking-on-my-drink moment on Monday this week with the publication of the Business Week survey on workplace attitudes. Anyone care to guess what percentage of the 2,000 middle management and above respondents to the [admittedly unscientific] survey thought they were top-flight performers?

90.

Yup – 90% of these geniuses thought they were in the top 10% for performance and effectiveness in the workplace. And when it came to executives – you know, the clear-sighted, steely-eyed visionaries who are leading us into a glorious future? Guess what the figure was amongst them?

97%

Laugh? I nearly herniated myself.

The American Management Association survey is probably a bit more scientific – a much bigger pool of respondents, with answers compared against employee feedback. But the results there weren’t much more impressive in terms of self awareness.

On the all-important area of communication skills, 90% of senior managers rated themselves as “Effective” or “Highly effective” communicators. But only 30% of their subordinates were similarly generous in their scoring about those managers.

Deep sigh.

Having looked at all the big quote-generating thinkers over the years, none of them – for me at least – have quite captured the essence of these yahoos. For me, the definition of an egomaniacal bore is, “Someone who is more interested in himself than he is in me.”

Think the pointy-haired boss from Dilbert. Think C.J. from Reginald Perrin. Think David Brent from The Office. Why are these characters funny? Because we have all met them. And 97% of them think they are in the top 10% of performers.

And what do I think about this?

  • First, I reckon that Steve Salerno might just be on the money when he writes about the negative effect of all the self-help, gee-aren’t-we-just-great thinking that has been pervading our collective consciousness for the last 30 years.
  • Second, if the numbers are telling us what I think they are telling us – and we’ve all seen so many results like these over the years, they can’t all be wrong. In which case, I wonder about the sense of having apparently delusional people running large companies.
  • But third, and most importantly, because I am a human being, which means I am fundamentally self-interested, I think, “Thank God for the yahoos. Without them, I’d be out of a job.” Does that make me a bad person?

Aren’t we a fascinating species? No-one thinks they are average and yet, by definition, most of us are … Your best thoughts on egotistical, delusional, windbag bosses in the comments please.

Related posts:
Admitting ignorance or asking for help
Mastery – in conversation with Seth Godin
Something no-one thinks they’re average at – listening
The law of averages as it pertains to Confidence
Performance appraisals