The Problem of Arrogance in Leadership

One of the primary reasons for the downfall of many leaders is the problem of arrogance. It defeats leadership in many ways, but especially in these two: 1) it inhibits a person’s ability to learn or take in information and 2) it inhibits a person’s ability to build meaningful relationships with others. Arrogance sabotages leadership because it drives people away.

What exactly is arrogance? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as this: 1) exaggerating or disposed to exaggerate one’s own worth or importance, often by an overbearing manner, and 2) showing an offensive attitude of superiority. Arrogance is very much the opposite of humility. No doubt you can think of someone who has demonstrated an arrogant attitude.

It is easy for a leader to fall into the trap of arrogance. In fact, arrogance can sneak into a person’s character as they achieve success. As the leader is placed in a position within the organization above others, he or she most likely will have been elevated in organizational position above one-time peers, often many times. Both the position and the process of being elevated can go to one’s head, making him/her begin to believe that they are superior in some way (or in many ways) compared to others. As a person moves ahead, self-congratulations can grow into arrogance. Arrogance is a mindset as well as a character trait.

The first problem with an arrogant person is that they begin to believe that they are always correct and that they have all the answers. When someone begins to think this way, they no longer need to take in additional information. They ignore or dismiss the input of those around them. By ignoring information, the arrogant person becomes just that, ignorant. Through their attitude they stifle the conversation around them and force others to accept their viewpoint. In doing so, the arrogant person can easily miss out on important information or alternative viewpoints, thus jeopardizing their decision-making process.

The second problem can be a corollary to the first. An arrogant person dismisses information from others and, in doing so, is perceived as dismissive of the other person. As arrogance takes root, the person behaves as if he/she operates on a level above the mere mortals around them. By human nature, we are not likely to respect a person who is dismissive of us and who shows no value for us. People only follow a leader when there is an established relationship of trust and respect. Therefore, the arrogant leader cannot inspire others, they can only rely upon command and control.

Arrogance should not be confused with confidence or self-esteem. Self-esteem is a realistic respect for or favorable impression of oneself. Confidence is a realistic belief in oneself and one’s powers or abilities. As a leader, we can be aware of the special gifts and abilities with which we have been endowed while still valuing the person of those around us and being open to listening and learning. Confidence is one of the character traits that makes a leader effective; arrogance results only in ineffectiveness.

As mentioned, arrogance is the opposite of humility. Where arrogance dismisses or devalues those around us, humility regards others as of equal value. Human value is not a function of either position or gifting.

Arrogance is a trait that can creep up on us, so we need to be aware and vigilant that it does not overtake us. If you find yourself feeling increasingly arrogant, be quick to stomp it out. Here are some possible ways to keep arrogance at bay:

  • Be vulnerable and authentic. Be quick to recognize and admit mistakes and seek the input and advice of others.

  • Practice humility. Express the value that you see in those around you. Recognize that many of your gifts and talents are not of your own doing but are provided to you by your Creator.

  • Be vigilant for any expressions of arrogance. Catch yourself and examine the impact that any signs of arrogance have on your effectiveness and your relationships.

  • Keep a journal of daily successes and failures. Use it as a guide for reflection and for setting personal development goals.

  • Ask those close to you to hold you accountable. The simple act of asking for accountability will heighten your awareness.

Remember that effective leadership is built on relationships of trust and respect. Humility is one of the traits that builds these relationships and arrogance is like dynamite, destroying relationships and our ability to lead.

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Ken Vaughan

Business Consultant & Leadership Coach at New Horizon Partners Inc.
(614) 776-5720

Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.
Ken Vaughan
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