The more self-adulatory hot air you blow, the better you do in the corporate world? — Apparently so, says Columbia Business School

Sad news for women, who deserve better based on their actual performances

Men’s “honest” overconfidence gets them promoted to leadership over similarly competent women:

Reuben and his coresearchers . . . asked MBA students to complete a set of math problems on which both men and women perform about the same. One year later, the researchers brought back the same students, asking them to recall their previous years’ performance.

The researchers found that when they compared actual with recalled performance, most participants overestimated their performance . . . .

There was one major difference: men consistently rated their past performance about 30 percent higher than it really was.

Women, on the other hand, consistently rated their past performance only about 15 percent higher than it actually was.

But while women kept pace with men on how frequently they lied, women did not exaggerate their performance to the same degree, and it cost them: women were selected [to lead the group] 1/3 less often than their abilities would otherwise indicate.

[T]he main difference in women not being selected as leaders appears to be attributable to men’s overconfidence in their abilities.

© Ideas at Work, Confidence Game, Columbia Business School (22 November 2011)

Citation — to the actual study

Ernesto Reuben, Pedro Rey-Biel, Paola Sapienza, and Luigi Zingales, The emergence of male leadership in competitive environments, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.06.016 (in press, published online 23 June 2011)

A free PDF draft of the paper is available here.

The questions that the study investigated

Experience indicates that the most talented people are frequently not chosen to lead.  Why?

The research team wanted to know whether there were gender differences in (i) judging one’s abilities, (ii) exaggerating them, or and/or (iii) responding to conflicts of interest between oneself and the group.

Method

From the paper’s introduction:

[W]e ran an experiment where groups select a leader to represent their group and compete against the leaders of other groups in a real‐effort task. Everyone in the group of the winning leader receives a prize.

Barring any explicit discrimination against women—which would be unlikely in an experiment with university students—groups should aim to select their most talented individual irrespective of gender.

© 2011 Ernesto Reuben, Pedro Rey-Biel, Paola Sapienza, Luigi Zingales, The emergence of male leadership in competitive environments, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.06.016 (in press, published online 23 June 2011)

Results

“Honest” blowhard-ism won out.

Capable women were selected to lead their group one-third less often than their task performance would have predicted.

The moral? — Checking potential leaders’ actual past performances appears to tax our abilities as human beings

Y-chromosomal hot air will carry you a long way toward promotion, even in the absence of discrimination.  What’s lost is an accurate sense of one’s ability, as well as overall accountability.

This phenomenon may explain the political successes of the (mostly) inept, loud-talking, nonsense-spouting 2012 Republican Party presidential candidates.

How’s that for a model of national and organizational success?

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