By Tom Davidson
As if there weren’t enough external threats to your business and your job, here’s an internal one you might not have recognized because of its slow emergence. It’s the Lake-Wobegon Syndrome, and you might have caught the virus yourself.
“Welcome to Lake Wobegon, where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average.” – Garrison Keeler
While it may be a fictional town in Garrison Keeler’s A Prairie Home Companion, Lake Wobegon has become the strange new reality in the workplace, where young managers often believe themselves to be “above average,” long before they’ve earned the rating.
For example, I was recently giving some guidance to a manager in training that involved situational leadership, and the new manager objected to my recommendations, saying, “That’s not my management style.” What I thought to myself was, “Having never been a supervisor, where did you get one of those?” What I said out loud was, “What is your management style, and what are the pros and cons of that in this situation?”
Overconfidence is nothing new, but three trends have converged to make it more endemic and a bigger impediment to learning leadership.
What can be done?
People with the Lake-Wobegon Syndrome aren’t learning fast enough. There is nothing wrong with these trends, but they’re collective impact is something all leaders need to cope with.
In addition to doing the basics well, that includes setting clear expectations, having a fair evaluation system, training people in the art of motivation and proper feedback, there is one more thing you can do.
Create a learning organization.
Role model learning. Admit mistakes. Tell people what you’re still learning and how. Ask people what they have learned recently rather than what they accomplished. Ask for feedback frequently and share the results.
The only way to beat the Lake-Wobegon Syndrome is to create a culture of your own where people are always honest about their strengths and weaknesses, always learning, and always getting better.