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'Beware of over confident leaders'

By Kevin Baldeosingh

Leaders don't make bad decisions because they are incompetent—they make bad decisions because they're too confident about their competence.

This was one of the insights given yesterday by American journalist and author Malcolm Gladwell, whose books The Tipping Point and Outliers have been international bestsellers.

Jamaica-born Gladwell, who lives in America and works as a staff writer for The New Yorker magazine, was the featured speaker at the Distinguished Leadership and Innovation Conference at the Hyatt Regency (Trinidad) Hotel, Port of Spain.

The conference, arranged by the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business, was the tenth in the annual series.

In his hour-long lecture, Gladwell noted the 2008 financial crisis wasn't caused by incompetence. "These weren't people who were out of their depth," he told the 400-plus audience who had each paid US$1,000 to be there. "They were brilliant, experienced, sophisticated people."

He said these people had not learned from the crisis, since he had been told by a friend who worked on Wall Street in New York, USA, that the financial gurus had already started to behave in the same way. "Over confidence is far more dangerous than incompetence," Gladwell said, but he still drew a titter from the audience when he declared, "We don't put incompetent people in charge of companies or to run things."

Speaking from notes but without a script, Gladwell told a story from the American Civil War to illustrate how over-confidence causes bad decision-making, when Confederate Gen Robert E Lee routed the Union Army under the brash Gen Joseph Hooker, even though the latter had twice as many men, more weapons, and better intelligence.

"What we really need from leaders in times of crisis is the benefit of their humility," Gladwell advised.

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