Do Generational Differences Affect Your Self-Assessment?

Written by Carlann Fergusson – Owner of Propel Forward
Too often I have heard from managers and recruiters who are Boomers or Generation X that Millennials have an unrealistic, inflated view of their capabilities. On the other hand, many Boomers and Generation X have a deflated perception of their competencies. Is this generational?

There are studies that would support that Millennials have an inflated view of their capabilities. A study of the generational differences in psychological traits of college students by Jean M. Wenge and Stacy Campbell, (Journal of Managerial Psychology, Vol 23 No. 8, 2008) found that the Millennial generation has the highest scores of self esteem and narcissism of any generation. Comparing scores of college-aged students on psychological inventories between 1950 and into the 2000s, the authors were able to track significant changes in generations. By the mid 1990, the average “Generation Me” college student had a higher self-esteem than 71% of Boomers. Narcissism scores also raised significantly. The average college student in 2006 scored higher in narcissism than 65 percent of students in the early 1980s. Specifically, a significant number of Millennial college students responded affirmative to questions such as “If I ruled the world it would be a better place,” “I think I am a special person,” and “I can live my life any way I want.”

You could interpret this to mean that Millennials will have an inflated sense of self when conducting self-assessments, but that is not always the case. Having coached thousand of managers I do see a pattern of how leaders assess themselves based on the type of feedback they have received from others. The more current the feedback and the more applicable it is to the specific behavior they are assessing, the more accurate is their self-assessment. This is regardless of generation.

If the Millennial grew up with the stereotypical “trophy kid” parents who doted on them, told them how special they were and that they could do anything, and if they went to a college where the instructors were told to behave in ways to maintain and enrich the students self-esteem, then we can expect an overly inflated sense of self-worth. This recent college hire is going to give themselves great scores on competencies which they actually have little proven track record on. However, if the Millennial has received more recent honest feedback related to real application of skills, and if they have accepted this feedback as accurate and not dismissed it based on an over inflated sense of self-worth then the ability to conduct an accurate self-perception is increased.

If a Millennial or any generation grew up in different circumstances with parents who gave realistic feedback of skills and abilities and was influenced by teachers, coaches and others who gave accurate praise and criticism, then the person will have a much more accurate assessment of their own abilities.

Likewise, if the person was raised with overly critical parents where nothing was quite good enough, they will tend to have a deflated assessment of their competencies and skills until they are able to get enough contradicting feedback to more accurately assess their capabilities. Unfortunately, quite a few Boomers and Generational Xs were raised in this environment. These individuals often need to learn to accept more positive feedback as accurate and not take corrective feedback as proof that they are still not good enough.

Before completing a self-assessment of your skills and competencies, ask yourself what pattern of feedback of influencing your perception of yourself. Let go of past images of yourself and dismiss feedback that is more than two years old and reflect instead on more recent feedback.


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Carlann Fergusson
Carlann Fergusson is owner of Propel Forward LLC (www.propelforward.com). Propel Forward LLC provides consulting, coaching and learning solutions on vision, strategy, organizational design, culture and leader capability. Carlann Fergusson has twenty-five years of experience with global Fortune 500 companies, privately owned businesses, state and federal governments, and non-profits. She brings proven diagnostic skills and keen insights to deliver a solution tied to your desired business results.

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