The Enemy of Everything Good
It was September 10, 2016 when I first wrote, “Everything good in leadership begins with humility.” I was proud of myself.
The enemy of everything good in leadership is arrogance. The word itself offends me. But alternatives like pride or ego have good sides. Arrogance never has a good side.
Contrast enhances understanding.
- Arrogance can’t listen. Confidence feels secure enough to let others talk.
- Dominating the meeting is arrogance. Confidence makes room for participation.
- Arrogance stands aloof. Confidence walks beside.
- Discomfort receiving feedback is arrogance. Learning is joy for confidence.
- Arrogance pursues position. Confidence strives for contribution.
- Fear of rejection is arrogance. Confidence enjoys approval but doesn’t need it.
- Paralyzing fear of failure is arrogance. Confidence knows that failure and learning row the same boat.
- Arrogance relishes being above, over, and better than. The essence of confidence is contentment with self, while acknowledging room for growth.
- Arrogance is thin skinned. Confidence accepts its own inconsistencies.
- Arrogance feeds on applause. Confidence enjoys appreciation but knows service is its own reward.
Arrogance wants you to think it can be defeated. But there is no ending arrogance.
Arrogant leaders see arrogance in others, but not in themselves.
Hindus bow to the divine within when they greet each other. It would be humble if you bowed to others and they didn’t bow to you. But Hindus bow to each other. It seems self-glorifying. (Other religions engage in self-glorification, too.)
Confess arrogance to a friend. Now that’s awkward. Arrogance doesn’t confess anything, except that it’s evil in others.
Arrogance loves hiding behind comfortable words like overconfidence and hates being named. Refusing to call arrogance by its rightful name protects it.
But if you’re serious about maximizing talent, developing rich relationships, and expanding your contribution, spit in the face of arrogance by confessing it.
What subtle or overt forms of arrogance do you see in leadership?
What might be done to address the sinister nature of arrogance?
I notice, while reviewing this post, that the second sentence in this post didn’t include the term arrogance.
If Humility is so Important, Why are Leaders so Arrogant? (HBR)
Are you Arrogant or Confident (Productive Leaders)
How Leaders can be Humble in an Age of Arrogance (Skip Prichard)
What a powerful and thought-provoking post, Dan! Years ago when interviewing candidates to fill a standardization-evaluation (Stan Eval) role, we tried to discern between those who were arrogant and those who exhibited a quiet confidence. Your post described that difference better than we ever did! It also serves as a check for servant leaders to guard against a gradual creep toward self-centered arrogance. All the best.
Thanks Paul. Distinguishing between arrogance and confidence seems like a challenge. Arrogance loves to parade as confidence. 🙂 Your good word is encouraging.
“Arrogance” is like a swinging door if we leave it closed everything seems to function smoothly, when we open it, the stinger comes out and defense mode begins to kick in for many, as you’re about to get blasted. Could be short and sweet or turn into a lecture. Realizing there are many ways to do things helps, and accepting those options is simpler than saying “you can’t do that”!
Well who’s going to stop me? Listen and learn follow the path that functions, which can be many. Share if someone asks, stay silent when no one asks, don’t worry the sword will come out soon.
Thanks Tim. The thing that grips me in your comment is “Realizing there are many ways to do things…” Yes!! My way. All other ways are some version of wrong. 🙂
Seriously, that speaks to me. Part of finding the “best” way to do something includes understanding the strengths, passions, and experience of the people involved. Arrogance is disinterested in others so it can’t find the “best” way to move forward.
AH yes, “as the world turns”! ” My way or the highway”! 🙂
Dan the way to lose your arrogance is to fail at things that are important to you. A job, a marriage, a friendship. It is best if this occurs early in life as it results in less damage to yourself and others. Brad
Thanks Brad. You got me thinking. Sometimes failure doesn’t humble arrogance. But, catastrophic failure is more likely to produce a positive result in us.
Sometimes arrogance just won’t give in. You see this when our failures are the fault of others. But, I remember my terrible car accident. It definitely humbled me. To be honest, I’ve lost some of the benefit of that accident with the passage of time.
Dan–great list. Here are two things that popped into my head…
–Arrogance–the door is completely shut. No need to hear new ideas and points of view.
–Confidence–the door is wide open seeking new, different and better ideas.
—-Arrogance–“i’m right; you’re wrong.”
—-Confidence–I believe in my position and may be influenced by your views.
So glad you added to the list, Paul. “I’m right; you’re wrong” … now that’s one of my favorites because I’m so often right!
Paralyzing fear of failure is arrogance. Confidence knows that failure and learning row the same boat. So I’ve found the here is how to help others understand this aspect of life and work within the context of life. Sometimes you just have to experience failure to understand it helps you grow.
Thanks Roger. The ability to acknowledge failure is a beginning of learning. A recent presentation I gave was strong during the second half and weak during the first. In order to improve, I have to acknowledge what could be improved in the first half. It’s painful to not excel 100% of the time. Even though excelling 100% of the time is unrealistic.
I think arrogance often seeks perfection, which is also the enemy of the good. Excellent post, Dan.
Thanks Sam. I find your statement provocative and uncomfortably true.
Arrogance is the tip of the iceberg, the manifestation of an underlying, unconscious fear. Self-lothing feellings of inadequacy and unworthiness usually drive arrogant behavior, as does a low level of Emotional Intelligence. Confidence, on the other hand, is rooted in love (for ourselves and others), not fear. Those of us who are self-aware and confident can respond with compassion in the face of arrogance and set an example. Humor helps as well! By better understanding the roots of arrogant behavior and replacing judgment with curiosity and defensiveness wth kindness for the childlike adult before us, we can all be more effective in our personal and professional relationships. It’s not easy, I know. I also know that our self-defensive impulses in the face of arrogant behavior reflect our own arrogance. It takes confidence and self-awareness to recognize this and respond with conscious intention.
Thanks Kim. The mic drop moment in your comment happened when I got to the part about self-defensiveness. OUCH!! 🙂
Dan, hats off for your self-awareness and for having the humility and confidence to publicly acknowledge your triggers!
Power begets arrogance. The more Power one gets, the greater he is susceptible to arrogance. It becomes a vicious cycle.
As a Leader, if you are confronted with having to tell an employee their arrogance is negatively impacting the workforce, my advice is to follow what Oscar Wilde once said, “If you want to tell somebody the truth you’d better make it funny otherwise they’ll kill you.”
Dan, this one is in your Top 10.
Jim, I couldn’t agree more with you and Oscar Wilde about the importance of using humor wisely.
I believe, however, that we need to redefine what power really means and, as human beings first and leaders second, model the behavior. As Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Power is the achievement of purpose.” He also said that power and love must coexist. Power without love is aggressive, violent and abusive. (I would add arrogant, as you noted!) Love without power is anemic and sentimental.
May I also suggest a change in pronouns: “The more Power one gets, the greater s/he or they is or are susceptible to arrogance.” Of course, I’m remaining binary and some would rightfully take issue with that.
In my teaching and past consulting, I draw upon David McClelland and David Burnham’s research work in Human Motivation. Their research found that we are all driven by Affiliation, Achievement, and Power. Power is characterized as being Personal Power or Institutional Power. The former seeks self-aggrandizement and the latter seeks to influence others to get things done. As one would expect, their research found the leader that exhibited Institutional Power was far more successful than Leaders motivated by Personal power.
“Power is the achievement of purpose.” Interesting statement, as long as one remembers the key here is understanding how and which “Power” is used to achieve the purpose.
If you are interested in reading more on Power, send me your email and I’ll forward several articles and a study I authored on Power.
I wonder if Oscar Wilde would buy into the binary, intersectionality thing? Hum…
Jim, thanks for the offer! I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As a reminder, Dr. King said that power and love must coexist. The consequences are grave when we practice them in silos. Though Dr. King probably would have felt more at home with Institutional Power, as you define it, I’m not sure that definition would have suited him completely as a “partner” for love. Influencing others to get things done is often grounded in manipulation and short-term thinking. Inspiration, sustaibability and encouraging others to become all they can be (vs. simply getting things done) are missing from the definiton for me.
Since you’re on a power trip — a mere play on words, I assure you — you may be interested in the notions of authentic power and external power as Gary Zukav describes them in “The Seat of the Soul,” one of my all-time favorite reads!
Due to my current focus on updating my lectures for the Fall semester, I did not get into detail, but Institutional Power is all about achieving results through the success of others. As I think you would agree, this takes a certain amount of “Love” of one’s employees to achieve results through them and reward their success.
Articles are on their way…
I am familiar with Guy Zukav’s work. I’ll dig out “The Seat of the Soul” and revisit it. Thanks…
An interesting thoughtful post!
Arrogance is the biggest weakness among those leaders who are over-ambitious and would like to accomplish things in the shortest period of time. They are clueless and at times depend on their team to deliver difficult things in their professional capacity without loss of time. An arrogance usually leads to anger and misuse of powers to shout or abuse at any individual or team. Such undesired behavior reflects the organization culture and is harmful in the long-run.
Humility, on the other hand, is the most essential trait in a leader who has come up in the corporate ladder the hard way. It is quite desirable to win the confidence of others and grow collectively with right inputs and direction.
Thanks Dr. Asher. Your reference to anger really gets my mind going. It seems true that anger follows arrogance. When I focus on me and my wants it’s easy to get angry when people don’t serve my “needs.” That’s a challenging idea for me.
It’s an interesting concept, especially being with me being a position of Leadership at a young age and interfacing with several Sr. Leaders in the C-Suite. Often times, those that have been in their positions the longest are those with the most humility and grace. I have experienced several leaders hired-into positions from outside the organization and immediately have the gut feeling of a person not fitting the culture due to their ego and lack of humility. I’m fortunate to work for an organization that values humility and truly takes pride in the fact that from the top, everyone listens to input and ideas without allowing ego to become the roadblock to a great idea.
I’ve led teams that had to ‘feel me out’ in the beginning of the my tenure. I always too the queue that if the team is silence, lacking input and didn’t participate in conversation; that it wasn’t the team’s fault – it was mine. Creating a sense of psychological safety is so critical to ensuring the team feels comfortable to participate without the fear or rejection. Often times, these scenarios are not created because a safe and accepting environment can be considered a weakness by an arrogant leader.
I would be interested to hear how other organizations fight the ego and allow for more impact channels of communication without arrogance being a roadblock.