One of the big challenges when working with business owners is often addressing their arrogance. Frequently, that task falls to an outside adviser, consultant or sometimes even the owner’s spouse!
After all, many employees who have been brave enough to tell their boss he has a bloated ego have the word “former” in front of their title! OR even if this brave employee doesn’t get fired, he or she will wind up buried somewhere in the organization. But more often if the subject of executive arrogance gets raised at all, it’s in exit interviews or bad press clippings!
When an executive fails to recognize it in himself, admit to it, or take steps to correct it, arrogance can demoralize his workforce and undermine the success of his company. As business professor William Hazlitt writes, “Do not imagine that you [the arrogant executive] will make people friends by showing your superiority over them; it is what they will neither admit nor forgive.”
In 14 years of personal experience working with business owners, I have found arrogance to be one of the most destructive behaviors an executive can possess. This arrogance is dangerous because it can lead to making irrational decisions. Decisions that range from knee-jerk firings of highly competent people, to the unnecessary purchasing of cash-draining personal toys.
Executive arrogance is also dangerous because so few people are willing to risk the wrath of the boss by telling him or her that they are arrogant. As a result, this employee abdication (can you blame them?) can leave the owner blind to the harsh realities of what’s going on in their business and/or marketplace.
These dangers become exponentially destructive to the organization when they drain the company of precious resources … financial, as well as human.
Psychologist Harry Levinson, who spent many years observing executives as they ascended to positions of power, wrote in Business Week, “They think they have the right to be condescending and contemptuous to people who serve them. They think they are entitled to privilege and the royal treatment.” The strong words that Dr. Levinson uses here tell the story of executive arrogance … condescending, contemptuous, and entitled. Ouch!
Arrogance typically grows in an executive over time as he or she achieves more and more successes. Each success leads to self-confidence—self-confidence that is necessary to move the business forward. But that self-confidence that is so important to continued success sometimes grows bloated by the very successes that feed it. If it’s not kept in check, it can lead to arrogance, and in extreme cases, executive narcissism.
Narcissism? That’s right- these pridefully oblivious executives can’t see beyond their own reflection in the water. And sometimes they fall victim to trophy-case watching and believing their own press clippings (see Nothing Recedes Like Success). So it isn’t mere self confidence that’s the culprit here. It’s “self confidence on steroids”- otherwise known as ARROGANCE!
Scary, huh?! In my next SFS Instructor’s Blog post I’ll discuss some further effects of executive arrogance and offer tips on how to harness this negative energy for personal and business growth.
Chuck Violand (more about Chuck)
CEO Violand Management Associates