Everyone is a great parent when they don’t have kids

As a leader, a coach and a parent I see the Dunning-Kruger effect in action every day, both personally and professionally. As they say, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. To overcome both our blind spots and the Dunning-Kruger effect,
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I have two sons, Jack and Lucas, who are now teenagers. I was an older mother, having my first child at 36. Prior to becoming a parent, I had great leadership training and experience. I had a BA with a major in Psychology, as well as an MBA, and I had participated in many leadership programs. Experientially, I had built businesses and teams, led restructures, and worked for both great and not so great managers.

When I found out I was expecting, I read books, listened to podcasts and visited websites. I had observed the parenting journeys of friends, colleagues and, of course, my own parents. I was prepared. Parenting was going to easy, or at least manageable. I knew I had to be patient, consistent and present. I had to accept failure and refrain from mollycoddling, ensure I was aligned with my partner on all the big issues and remember never to fight in front of the kids.

Well, everyone is a good parent from the outside. It is easy to look at the frantic father at the supermarket buying their screaming child a lollipop or at the mother yelling at her child at soccer practice for losing their mouthguard again, and say, ‘I will never do that’. I do think I am good parent but I am guilty of both of the above.

Leadership is the same. We are all great leaders on paper. We know we need to put people first. We know we need to think strategically about business outcomes, considering both long- and short-term consequences. We know that collaborative cultures result in greater productivity, engagement and retention than do autocratic cultures. But are we always as good as we think we are? The 360-degree feedback of leaders often tells us that, unfortunately, we are not!

I had developed a model in my head of the type of parent I was going to be. After all, I had read about, observed and experienced aspects of both good and bad parenting. So what happened? Why doI sometimes fall short of my ideals?

Simply, there are times when all my knowledge and intellect just disappear. It is easy to follow the plan and be the parent I want to be when things are going well – when work is calm, everyone has had a good nights sleep and we are not in the midst of a global pandemic . But the days when there is a crisis at work, I have had four hours of broken sleep a night for three nights running, and dinner has been baked beans on toast – well, on those days I consider great parenting to be just resisting the urge to walk out!

Reading and observing is not mastering. In the words of Phillip Dennis, a world champion poker player with more than ten world titles, study will only lead to competence. Practice, experience and failure are what lead to mastery.

The second thing I learnt about myself through my parenting experience is that I just wasn’t as capable as I thought I was. Because I had a little bit of academic learning but no real experience, I was unaware of my true incompetence. In coaching we call this a blind spot, or unconscious incompetence. In psychology it is referred to as the Dunning-Kruger effect. The Dunning-Kruger effect states that the less knowledge we have about something, the better we think we are at it. Conversely, the greater our skill or knowledge level, the more likely we are to underestimate ourselves. Take a quick look at this video about the the Dunning-Kruger effect or read this article.

As a leader, a coach and a parent I see the Dunning-Kruger effect in action every day, both personally and professionally. As they say, a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing. To overcome both our blind spots and the Dunning-Kruger effect, we need experience, practice, an acceptance of incompetence, feedback, and a commitment to learn and change. Seeking feedback, finding a mentor or coach, and accepting that you don’t have all the answers are the first steps towards becoming a master, not just competent.

Today, as you go about your daily activities today as a parent, manager, leader or team member, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my blind spots, or areas of unconscious incompetence?
  • Where might the Dunning-Kruger effect be showing up in my life?
  • What steps will I take to be the best I can be and continue to master my skills rather than settling for just being competent?

If you would like to find out more about how Peeplcoach can help you and your team with skill development or if you would like to register for your free coaching or consulting session, please contact us here.

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