Overconfidence: the Hidden Costs

By | January 21, 2019

[January 21, 2019]  When my son was growing up, he often enjoyed playing on our small-town’s sports teams.  We all know the ones; no kid is refused a spot on the team, and everyone gets to play.  His baseball team was in last place; 11th and yet he came home with a trophy.  He thought it was “really cool,” but there would be hidden costs to his overconfidence that would manifest itself later.

The next year, my son passed from grade school to middle school, where was greater sports competition.  Fewer teams meant a selection process, and not everyone would make the team.  Since my son was very athletic, he was able to make the team despite a lack of baseball knowledge or experience.  As a potential left-handed pitcher, the coach actively recruited him for the team.  My son thought he was the cat’s meow.

His confidence came to a crashing halt when my son was unable to play the game without serious tactical and skill-based errors.  It was, in a word, “embarrassing.”  I’ll never forget the look on his face during the first game as he was responsible for some throwing errors, wild pitches, and dropped balls.

When you think you’re good, but you’re not, it can be an unforgettable yet educational experience.  Leadership is like this.  Confidence is important to be an effective leader.  But a leader must also be knowledgeable enough about their skill set and conditions under which they work, to know when to act and when not to act — knowing which is not easy.

Being a student of military history, I read many stories of battles and wars that were led by overconfident generals.  The tragedy can cost the lives for many and be the seed that lost the war.  For example, nearly every historian I ever read or talked with told me about the great military strategist in Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  He is viewed as a great man.

But, at the Battle of Gettysburg, General Lee’s overconfidence led to the defeat of his army and placed the Confederacy on the patch to eventual defeat.  Lee showed all the necessary traits of a great leader, but his many battlefield successes led him, that day, to overestimate his army’s capability.  That was his downfall and that of what he stood to support.  The hidden costs were the destruction of the wealth, reputation, and much of the culture of the South.

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

19 thoughts on “Overconfidence: the Hidden Costs

  1. Nick Lighthouse

    Great to read your story, Gen Satterfield, on a cold morning whiie I drink my coffee. Entertaining and educational.

  2. Gil Johnson

    Overconfidence refers to the phenomenon that people’s confidence in their judgments and knowledge is higher than the accuracy of these judgments. That’s me! And I paid the price for it many times.

    1. Eric Coda

      Unwarranted confidence in one’s own knowledge and competence can yield reckless behavior and lack of openness for disconfirming information, and thus lead to poor performance and severe mistakes. Gil, I know what you mean.

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    I had a student in my High School class that I teach say the following:
    “Confidence is a great thing. It allows us to get past our doubts and take action. So why is slightly too much of it so bad?”
    Great question. I spent the better part of home period class talking about it. Not sure I got very far but it generated a lot of discussion. Among HS students that is a spark that might keep going after they leave the classroom.

    1. Georgie M.

      Do what you can to keep their interest and they will learn. I know what you mean Mr. TJ. Thank you for reminding us of what it was like to be in high school.

  4. Martin Shiell

    An excessive faith in ourselves and our judgment means that we too often ignore our vulnerability to bias and error.

  5. Scotty Bush

    Loved this quote by Astronaut Neil Armstrong: “Well, I think we tried very hard not to be overconfident, because when you get overconfident, that’s when something snaps up and bites you.” I would be a good idea that we pay close attention to what those successful men and women have to say and to what they do.

  6. Joey Holmes

    The same thing happened to my older brother. Cheers!

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Good to see you back on Gen. Satterfield’s blog. Haven’t heard from you in a while.

      1. Joey Holmes

        Family vacation, homework, ……. you know what it is like. Cheers!

  7. Eddie Ray Anderson, Jr.

    Another great story. Yes, I agree with your on-going theme that learning through stories is best. We have an appetite for good storytelling and remember the lessons more vividly and longer.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Eddie, you would think everyone knows this but you know what they say about making assumptions? It makes an ASS\U\ME.

    1. Roger Yellowmule

      Thanks Albert. Yes, interesting Facebook page.

  8. Eva Easterbrook

    This is why growing up is not always easy and is filled with difficult times. However, it is what makes us better people. I’m sure your son grew up to be a good person.

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