By Steve Moran

I just finished reading The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win that is all life lessons from high stakes poker. In the book, the author Maria Konnikova talks about how way too often poker players, even the pros, suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. I am fearful that it too often impacts leaders in all walks of life, including senior living.

Dunning-Kruger Effect & Leadership

The fundamental premise is that people tend to overestimate their skills and abilities. And making it worse, the more incompetent a leader is the more likely they are to overestimate their abilities. This is largely about ego and not wanting to feel incompetent or, at least, reveal the feeling of incompetence.

This means two terrible things happen: one obvious. the other less obvious:

  1. They lead badly — This is the obvious problem. They lead badly,  their team knows it, and often their customers (residents) know it. This means that people suffer, are treated badly, and the company’s financial performance suffers.

    It would be safe to say that each time we have seen a nursing home or, more rarely, senior living, COVID-19 disaster where there were dozens of deaths, Dunning-Kruger was on full display.
  2. These leaders almost never get better — The massive problem is that they believe themselves to be the best leaders in the whole world and that when things do go wrong, it the fault of others, usually customers or team members.


Having someone like this as a leader is crazy-making. Often they exude so much self-confidence that even when team members see bad behavior, the overconfidence makes team members wonder if they are missing something important when they are not. If you are working for, being led by, someone like this there is only one thing to do. GET OUT!

Everyone Has It

Here is the rub. From time to time everyone has a bit of Dunning-Kruger because we all hate looking and feeling dumb. Many times in social situations a little bit of overconfidence can actually be a good thing. It is in fact often, if not always, on display at conferences. However, it is important for leaders to be aware that they do not always have the best right answers.

It is in those moments of “I don’t know everything” that magic really happens in organizations.

Do you have a story you would be willing to share about how you suffered from Dunning-Kruger?