Arrogant leaders operate under the belief that they are simply confident go-getters. Actually, arrogant leaders believe a lot of things about themselves that are; A) false, and B) severely detrimental to their success as a leader. Arrogance is leadership repellant.
There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. When leaders are confident, they have a deep belief in their ability to make a difference in the world. Confidence is an important competency in leadership, and it is critical to your success. Confidence is motivating and inspirational to others. It gives you the ability to take the risks needed to stay innovative and push your team or organization further ahead.
Arrogance crosses the line of confidence. Arrogant people believe they no longer have a need to learn, grow, or change. They wholeheartedly believe that they are right and others are wrong.
Arrogance destroys the valuable, and absolutely essential, relationships a leader has with other team members. Even more devastating is the feeling arrogant behavior creates in others. People have no desire or motivation to follow an arrogant leader. Sometimes the arrogance is so repugnant that people cheer when arrogant people fail, even if it means they suffer too.
An occasional act of cockiness or self-indulgence happens to most of us, and as long as it is the exception and not the norm, it will generally be forgiven. However, when all 11 of these traits rear their heads frequently, you’ve morphed into the Medusa of destructive leadership.
Believe they are smarter
Arrogant leaders truly believe they are the smartest person in their organization.
Bernie Madoff, who orchestrated the largest financial fraud in history with his Ponzi scheme, defrauded his clients for over forty years. The SIPC estimates that the actual loss to investors was $18 billion. Why did he do it? He didn’t think he would be caught. He was so supremely arrogant that he believed he was smarter than everyone in the SEC.
When others agree with the opinion of an arrogant leader, they are considered smart and well educated. If a person happens to disagree, however, that disagreement equals ignorance in the mind of this leader. On far too many occasions, arrogant leaders have gone so far as to call those who dare challenge or question them stupid.
When this happens, subordinates and peers learn not to challenge the leader, even when he or she is clearly wrong. Not only do arrogant leaders belittle those who disagree with them, but they often do so in the most condescending and patronizing way possible. When team members are no longer willing to challenge and question their leader, innovation plummets. Your team members are no longer willing to challenge their leader when they see better and smarter ways to do things, which is why you hired smart and capable employees in the first place.
Unwilling to learn
When you believe you are the smartest person in the room, the unwillingness to learn, grow, and change, gives arrogant leaders a false sense of their abilities in other areas of life. They may be the smartest person in the room technically, but when it comes to emotional intelligence and building strong relationships with others, they fail miserably. Arrogant people really believe they know it all. They do not.
Arrogant leaders love to tell others about all the wonderful things they have accomplished and acquired. No matter what others have seen or done, arrogant people always have a story about a time they did it bigger and better. They caught a bigger fish, they have a newer, faster car. They love to tell you about their latest exotic vacation, especially after you tell them you spent your vacation in the hospital. Bragging and one-uping anyone you interact with is a great way to alienate all those around you.
It’s all about them
Arrogant people feel best when they are talking about themselves. (Let’s face it, most of us do). But arrogant people excel at taking normal human interaction into the narcissistic realm. They love to talk about their dreams, goals, and accomplishments. They are not comfortable listening, asking questions, or holding a conversation about other topics. Arrogant people are good at giving advice (whether it’s wanted or not), but not accepting advice from others. In fact, if you do happen to broach a topic that the arrogant person does not agree with or see value in, they are quite comfortable cutting you off mid-sentence so they can control the conversation once again.
Lack listening skills
Arrogant people take pride in multi-tasking. Instead of taking the time to stop what they are doing, make eye contact, and truly listen to a person talking to them, arrogant leaders will continue responding to their emails, making notes, eating lunch, or completing other tasks. Their actions clearly communicate that they are busy dealing with far more important issues than you.
An arrogant leader is easy to identify by their communication style, both verbal and non-verbal. When things don’t go their way in a conversation, they have no problem raising their voice, throwing in swear words for impact, or putting people down in front of others. In one meeting I facilitated, the leader dramatically rolled her eyes when a team member made a recommendation to solve a problem. In another situation, I saw a leader walk away from their direct report while the direct report was still talking to them. The icing on the cake was the hand she held up in exasperation to emphasize, “I have heard enough from you.”
Unwilling to admit they are wrong
An arrogant leader seldom acknowledges that they may be wrong, or might have made a mistake. As if that’s not enough to undermine relationships, arrogant leaders are even quicker to point out the faults and failures of others. They have a pressing need to blame others when things go wrong. They are the first to fix the blame, not the problem. They do not accept accountability for their actions and mistakes.
Inability to apologize
Arrogant managers have a hard time admitting they’re wrong, and an even harder time saying, “I’m sorry. I promise I won’t do it again.” I’ve even witnessed a leader who yelled and swore at another team member. When someone told this leader that he needed to apologize for his poor behavior and lack of professionalism, he responded, “I’m not apologizing to anyone. He (the recipient of the yelling) was wrong for provoking me and you (the person asking him to apologize) are wrong for not standing up to him when you knew he was wrong.” Everyone is wrong, and he is the only exception.
If you have ever tried to give an arrogant person constructive criticism or guidance, you know that the feedback was not appreciated. Negative feedback makes arrogant people upset and angry. How dare my boss tell me I am wrong! They usually respond in a way that sends a strong message that they do not ever want feedback again. The reactions vary from anger to ceasing to communicate with you at all. Either way, the impact is the same; you think twice before you go and give them feedback a second time.
Withhold praise and recognition
Arrogant leaders are quick to tell you how wonderful they are and all the great things they have accomplished, but they tend to withhold praise and recognition when others do great work or are successful. It is hard for them to believe that others are worthy of attention and recognition. When team members do not feel their contributions are valued, they wonder, “Why should I bother?”
Undermine their boss
You might question why this point would show up in arrogance. Here’s why: Arrogant people truly believe they are smarter and make better decisions than their boss. They never stop to think: someone in power must believe my boss has significant value and creates important outcomes for the team or organization. For example, your boss’s boss really trusts your boss and the decisions that they make. Or, maybe your boss’s boss thinks your boss is doing a great job. Arrogant people fail to understand they are just as disposable as everyone else. When you undermine your boss, you will more often than not find yourself unemployed.
It doesn’t take an expert to figure out why these behaviors are detrimental to your leadership success. Strong leadership is built on the foundation of strong relationships you’ve earned with your team members. When all your actions undermine every working relationship you have, your foundation is non-existent. Truly arrogant leaders have a hard time recovering from this affliction, and will not succeed, no matter how smart and competent they are.
What’s your experience with arrogance in the workplace? Share your thoughts in the comments below.