Leaders most afflicted by arrogance are the ones most likely to deny its derailing effect on their careers. It helps if you don’t think of arrogance as a negative quality that must be eradicated. After all, everyone wants a leader with self-confidence. As you will discover, the key is learning to step back over the line you crossed (or knowing where the line is before you take that fatal step) from self-confidence to arrogance. The following will give you a sense of the side of the line you’re currently on:
|You’re willing to fight for what you believe in.||You’re unwilling to give up a fight no matter what|
|You believe that your perspective is the correct one after evaluating other points of view.||You believe that your perspective is the correct one before evaluating others’ ideas.|
|You hold yourself accountable when your strategy or idea doesn’t work.||You refuse to take responsibility when your strategy or idea doesn’t work.|
|You adapt your strongly held viewpoint to jibe with new information or developments.||You reinterpret events to fit your point of view|
|You possess a powerful ego that allows you to make an impact on others.||You possess a powerful ego that causes you to dominate others.|
Remember, arrogance is a blinding belief in your own opinions, so you may find yourself rationalizing the results of this exercise. You may insist to yourself that you’re on the left side of the line even though you’re actually on the right. To make sure you know if this derailer is likely to cause your failure in the future, it’s useful to study some classic symptoms of arrogance.
Signs and Symptoms Arrogance
Arrogance has a tremendous impact on your career and your company, but it can operate in subtle ways during its initial stages. I have known a number of CEOs who recognized that they are arrogant but don’t recognize that it’s severely limiting their capacity to gain the trust of other people. Here are some of the common negative impacts of arrogance:
A diminished capacity to learn. Arrogant leaders reinterpret data to fit their own worldview. Instead of taking in new information and adjusting to it, this type of leader reconfigures the data to fit his/her strongly held views. Thus, no learning takes place. Many CEOs today are encountering people, product, and organizational complexities with which they have no experience. Too often, this doesn’t stop them from feeling certain that they know what to do. Similarly, arrogance discourages other people from giving this type of leader information. They’ve experienced the contemptuous stare, or the unwillingness to accept an idea contrary to the existing perspective. As a result, people stop trying to provide certain types of information and ideas, knowing they’ll be skewered if they do. Arrogance, then, becomes an obstacle to learning. In today’s environment, a leader who can’t learn and adjust is someone who is bound to fail.
An off-putting refusal to be accountable: In other words, such leaders don’t take responsibility for their errors. At senior levels, it is easy to blame others: “The organization doesn’t get it:” “The team didn’t execute”, or even, “The economy didn’t behave:” This demoralizes everyone around the leader and often makes bad mistakes worse. Excessive pride prevents people from seeing what they are doing wrong so they end up compounding their mistakes. Even the most brilliant of leaders can act this way. Robert Hogan refers to General Douglas MacArthur’s refusing to follow the president’s orders during the Korean War and being fired as a result, and MacArthur never was able to admit that he had made a mistake. Many CEO memoirs repeatedly say, “If given a chance, I would do the same thing again!”
Resistance to change. Everyone knows a CEO or other top executive who achieved success doing it “my way” and then refused to depart from an earlier formula for success. These leaders are so absolutely certain that they possess the only right and true map that they resist anything that takes them off their chosen path. Many times, they are correct, but more often, this position leads to debacle and dismissal. Some of these leaders, however, know they must give the appearance of embracing change. They will verbally endorse a new strategy and talk about changing with the times. But in their heart of hearts, they’re convinced they know what is best and will resist change behind the scenes. This, of course, sends a confusing message to everyone and makes it difficult, if not impossible, to implement new policies and programs.
An inability to recognize one’s limitations: Arrogant leaders believe that they can do everything well. They are blind to their deficiencies, and this makes them dangerous to themselves and others. To a certain extent, this blindness should be expected. When you’ve excelled at school, mastered a variety of assignments, and bested your competitors, it’s natural that you should feel invincible. The problem, of course, is that this is an illusion. CEOs who believe they can handle every situation and who are willing to make decisions in areas where they have little or no expertise ultimately create tremendous problems for themselves and their organizations.
Pride Goeth Before a Fall: How to Catch Yourself In Time
Arrogance is a treatable disease. Before you fail or before you cause your group or organization to fail, you can do a number of things to stop yourself short of failure:
Determine if you fit the arrogance profile: CEOs with arrogance follow a remarkably similar path to the top. They achieve great success relatively quickly; they are showered with perks and praises; they passionately believe in their own vision and that they are capable to taking the company where it wants to go; they surround themselves with people who share their vision and views. If this sounds like you, reflect upon whether your self-confidence and pride has turned into arrogance
Find the truth-tellers in your organization and ask them to level with you. This is not the same as telling all your people you have an “open door policy.” Overly self-confident, intimidating people frequently have such a policy, but few direct reports take advantage of it because it’s very difficult to approach an arrogant leader with anything new or disagreeable. Every company, however, has at least some truth-tellers-people who are almost pathologically direct and honest. Seek them out and ask them how you are perceived. Use the cross-the-line test with them and let them place you on the arrogance continuum.
Use setbacks as an opportunity to cross back over the line before a big failure hits: Sometimes nothing penetrates an arrogant leader’s consciousness better than a small failure. At this point, a teachable moment occurs, and it’s possible for even the most imperious, brilliant, and visionary CEO to recognize that arrogance will lead to downfall. As with all the derailers, arrogance-generated failure is an opportunity as well as a setback. Many times, derailers destroy careers because we are unwilling to acknowledge the trait that is making us less effective than we should be. We are so convinced that a given trait is “who we are” and why we are successful that we are reluctant to see the trait’s dark side. Failure, though, gives us pause. It is especially useful for arrogant leaders who rarely stop and consider their vulnerabilities and flaws. This is the time to think long and hard about whether your excessive pride may have contributed to the setback. This is the time to ask the truth-tellers in your organization for brutally honest feedback. If you accumulate enough evidence that your arrogance was the culprit, you may be motivated to change.
About the Author:
Dr. Asare Bediako Adams, FCILG is the Director of Operations for the Chartered Institute of Leadership and Governance and the Executive Director of PMRIG Group of Companies.
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