Concept articles

The Dangers of Arrogance in Leadership


There’s a line between confidence and arrogance in leadership and it’s not fine but bold and highlighted.

Most if not all of us see it in crossed in our daily lives, too. That leader who saves all the highly visible and important work for herself and dumps insignificant tasks onto her team, for example. Or, the department head who is busy self-promoting but doesn’t do enough to promote her team’s accomplishments. Nor does she listen to their valuable input.

Arrogance can be defined as a lack of appreciation for what others need and offer. It is the opposite of confidence, which is the appreciation of one’s own needs and contributions as well as those of others. While arrogant individuals may project an image of unbending confidence, this is often no more than bravado. Beware of unbending confidence and when it may be crossing the line!

In leadership, arrogance has consequences that can be detrimental to all those involved. These include:

Focuses attention on the wrong things

Arrogance has a way of focusing attention on the wrong things. Take, for example, the quizzical debate about Obama vs. President Trump’s inauguration crowd size. Where did this dispute get us? When leaders focus on the wrong things, their people focus on the wrong things which in return leads to accomplishing the wrong things- if anything at all. Effectiveness in leadership is first and foremost about knowing the vision and how to align your team to it.

Leads to dysfunction

Swirling around the wrong things long enough and lacking an appreciation for others leads to dysfunction. It’s hard to function properly when goals are muddled by misplaced focus.

Breaks down connection

When leaders behave arrogantly they take themselves outside of the human experience by elevating themselves to Superhuman or God-like status. They do so either because they are insecure and believe others will only follow them if they are Super human, or because they are narcissistic and truly believe they are Super human. In either case, it’s smoke and mirrors. We are all human beings and there is no title in the world that can change that. Being in the human experience with those we lead makes us relatable, fallible and inspirational. It’s only in being in it with them that people feel a connection to their leaders. When this kind of connection exists, we are more willing to follow leaders when they say, “I’m going to take us somewhere better. let me show you the way.”

Creates tension and resistance

When a leader is arrogant, it sends the message to others that “I matter, you don’t matter.” Or, “My values and opinions matter, yours don’t.” When this continues over time, tension builds and that tension leads to resistance.

Blocks innovation

David Rock, the Director of The Neuroleadership Institute, has found in his research that just the status of being a leader alone creates a fight, flight, flee response. That means the leader must work especially hard to overcome the threat she represents to get the best out of her people. [SB2] When leaders don’t do this work they continue to be a threat to their people., creativity and high forms of problem-solving are not accessible. As Albert Einstein once said, we can’t solve a problem with the same thinking that got us into the problem in the first place.

The solution I offer is to embrace “The Humbling Experience” and take on board the crucial leadership lessons it brings. The Humbling Experience is an opportunity that allows – or requires – us to practice humility. A corrective performance conversation at work, for example. A demotion, a termination, a failed initiative or feedback that we did not want to hear. Every leader gets one, at least once.

The chance to learn, however, comes not from the experience itself, but from accepting it for what it truly is rather than putting up emotional defenses such as telling ourselves it was the other person – the one who gave the feedback we didn’t want, for example – who is wrong.

The Humbling Experience is a gift. A chance to rise from the ashes like a Phoenix. All leaders fall, the great ones rise again. What kind of leader are you?


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