[February 24, 2017] … but you’re not can be a strangely motivating event. I’m reminded of the Allstate Insurance’s commercials involving the Mayhem Guy who plays out scenarios involving accidents.1 An underlying theme in those commercials is that since we’re humans, we’re often the object of our own failures.
Overconfident: foolishly adventurous, reckless, foolhardy are just a few words that help to define this human condition where we think we’re really good at something but the fact is that it might not be true. As a young man I thought I was a “highly” skilled car driver and that lead to my first car accident in my 1965 Ford Mustang.
I was headed north on U.S. Interstate I-79 north of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania when one of those snow squalls wiped out visibility. I kept going (first mistake) and I swore at the time that it was that big semi-truck that forced me off the road (second mistake) and into the ditch when I under-steered the car (third mistake). Fortunate for me, I didn’t die there and the car wasn’t totaled but it had to be towed out and repaired costing me a lot of money I didn’t have as a struggling graduate student.
Leadership is the same way. It is crucial that good leaders have the confidence in their abilities so they can take action and don’t make crucial mistakes when others are hesitant. But they must also be knowledgeable enough about their skills and the conditions they work under to know when to act and when not to. The problem here is that this is rarely clear and people get themselves into situations over their heads.
Senior leaders who are unable to assess their own leadership skills and that of people around them may jeopardize them. In the World War II Battle of the Kasserine Pass in North Africa, United States forces were soundly beaten by Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps in the first American major battle defeat of the war. More than one thousand American soldiers were killed by Rommel’s military offensive and hundreds taken prisoner.
The U.S. Army instituted sweeping changes of unit organization and replaced a number of senior commanders whose leadership was deemed lacking. The American units were inexperienced but their leaders were confident in their training, the soldiers, and their equipment. Only after the defeat was it realized that this was not the case and that the troops were poorly led.
More than anything else the battle at the Kasserine Pass itself was used to motivate future senior leaders about the risks of overconfidence. Failure and the fear of future failures can be a highly motivating factor for leaders.
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- See one of my favorite commercials on YouTube: http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Allstate+Insurance+Mayhem+Guy&&view=detail&mid=0B2AD11A4C8E5754961C0B2AD11A4C8E5754961C&FORM=VRDGAR