Dangerous Silence and Excessive Confidence

Abundance Accountability Personal leadership Respect


Story: Why do organization cultures live with dangerous silence? How do you respond in situations when you know your boss could be making a serious mistake? Does it make a difference when the leader has a great reputation and is enormously confident? What if the culture is considered excellent and usually “right?” My recent visit to the hospital gave me an opportunity to observe the relationship between doctors (especially surgeons) and the rest of the medical team (nurses, physiotherapists, etc). It is clear that it might be difficult for the support team to speak up if it involves confronting the decision, or direction of a very self-assured authority figure. Surgeons in particular have to be a confident lot. It’s part of what makes them great at what they do. It is also a condition for dangerous silence. 

In her recently published book, The Fearless Organization, expert Amy Edmondson really digs into the vital nature of psychological safety. In the book she relays numerous powerful stories where excessive confidence contributed to catastrophes involving loss of life. All too often, small or massive tragedies could have been avoided if someone had spoken up and others listened.

Key Point: Our readers know that I’ve been writing about psychological safety as one of the key elements in building a great culture for some time. Most of our perspective has referred to the dangers when a blanket of fear keeps people muffled. In this blog, we want to highlight another factor: Overconfidence. The following is a chapter summary from The Fearless Organization.

When people fail to speak up with their concerns or questions, the physical safety of customers or employees is at risk, sometimes leading to tragic loss of life. Excessive confidence in authority is a risk factor in psychological and physical safety. A culture of silence is a dangerous culture.”

Be wary of the halo effect circling around excessively confident people and organizations. Great leaders and cultures are both confident AND very humble. They know it is dangerous to get big heads from their loyal tribe (customers/employees/shareholders) and all the touted historical success. In fact, the best leaders go out of their way to invite challenges even to their most deeply held convictions. A strong Board of Directors also plays a vital role in this context. Overconfidence is a huge RISK. Watch for the “arrogant” signals blinking away.

Lead Yourself Move:

  1. Become known as someone who is confident and humble by proactively inviting challenge. Become a super listener. Be decisive, yet curious about how solid your convictions really are.

Lead Others Move:

  1. Institutionalize the value of challenge and respectful, constructive confrontation everywhere. Insist on nothing being sacred. Expect people to “talk back” AND “listen up.”
  2. Redefine loyalty to you as someone who tells it like it is whether you approve of the message or not. Surround yourself with positive challengers.

Confident humbleness in Personal Leadership,


One Millennial View: I think the key takeaway from the blog above is, “watch for the ‘arrogant’ signals blinking away.” When confidence spills over to arrogance, a fine line has been crossed. However, let’s be careful not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. As an employee, I’d rather have a leader with a little too much confidence than a lack thereof. 

– Garrett

Blog 950 edited and published by Garrett Rubis