Leadership: Arrogance Watch

New Zealand Management, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Leadership: Arrogance Watch


Byline: Reg Birchfield

The essence of great leadership can be elusive. But there's one human quality which, if it takes root, almost always delivers a leader's downfall -- arrogance.

Arrogance is an otherwise gifted leader's potential pitfall. The line that separates intelligence and arrogance is often fine. Spotting the transition from the positive exploitation of one to indulging the corrosive excesses of the other often happens insidiously.

Gifted leaders are frequently endowed with generous portions of self importance and a sense of imperious assurance. Being smart, bright and clever leads to competence in many business skills. But, according to American organisational and management psychologist Hodges L Golson, these intellectual gifts help individual managers get used to being right, being perceived as good problem-solvers and being highly valued. "This leads to arrogance," says Golson.

Intelligence and arrogance are two components of the major fundamental competencies critical to business, and of course political and other organisational success. They're part of the intellectual and interpersonal (head and heart) competencies that rank along with integrity and intensity (gut and will) that are considered essential leadership attributes.

Golson suggests a simple four-quadrant approach with brainpower on one axis and arrogance on the other, to explain the implications of the intersection of intelligence and arrogance. Individuals of low competence and low arrogance aren't, for example, likely to rise to high executive rank without being related to someone in power.

Individuals of high competence and low arrogance invariably solve problems without being offensive or abrasive. "You want all of these folk you can get in an organisation," he says. On the other hand, if personal insecurity is what spawns low level arrogance, the individual might need help to take initiatives to drive their solutions through.

Low competence and high arrogance individuals are downright dangerous. They don't realise the limits of their ability and lack the good sense to ask for a second opinion. If these characters don't flame out early in their careers, their unfounded self confidence can propel them way beyond their abilities. "Then they take the organisation down unless they're very lucky," warns Golson.

Finally, there's the highly interesting high competence, high arrogance sector. They're interesting because of the competing forces of "great potential and great danger". You've probably seen them about or read of their exploits. They are often successful, but simultaneously destructive to morale and relationships and, ultimately, the organisation. …

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