Hubris in Action

hubris-titanic1This New York Times article about how a former Apple exec crashed and burned as the CEO of J.C. Penney is fascinating. Clearly his enemies are dishing, but he really gave them a lot to dish about.

He does come across as incredibly arrogant:

“Mr. Johnson liked to tell employees that there were two kinds of people: believers and skeptics, and at Apple, there were only believers. He wanted the same at Penney: when employees pushed back on Mr. Johnson’s strategies, they got nowhere, according to several former executives. Even when Mr. Ackman urged him to meet with retail stars like J. Crew’s Millard S. Drexler and Topshop’s Philip Green, Mr. Johnson seemed to pay little attention to their doubts.”

I’d feel sorry for him, but you know – the 1%, they only fail up. This also reminds me of James Allworth’s excellent article in the Harvard Business Review about how women shouldn’t “lean in” (per Cheryl Sandberg’s book), i.e., embrace traditionally “male” management and career styles, but men should lean out. A hallmark of male versus female management is that men overvalue their competence while women undervalue it:

Let me give you an example: the relative difference in confidence between the sexes. In exploring this phenomenon, the book cites a research study of students in a surgery rotation; the study found that when asked to evaluate themselves, the female students gave themselves lower scores than the male students, despite faculty evaluations that later showed the women actually outperformed the men. Passed through the lens of Lean In‘s judgment, the ones at fault here are the women, for not being confident enough in themselves. The recommendation that comes later in the chapter: women should “fake it until they make it.”

But is this really good advice?

While Lean In might see the scenario as women lacking the confidence of men, there is a pretty glaring alternative hypothesis: it wasn’t the women who were lacking confidence — but it was the men who were too confident. It’s not that much of a stretch to suggest that the men who were more confident in their ability were the ones less likely to do the hard yards in preparation before the surgery rotation. The end result? They didn’t perform as well.

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