In leadership, arrogance is the kiss of death because it is inherently self-limiting. Why? Leadership is about others; arrogance is about self. Many leaders do not understand this because they rose to their positions through sheer force of will. For them, a team is an obstacle to overcome rather than a source from which to draw strength.
Arrogance cuts the leader off from team input. It sends a message that you believe that you are better those you lead. This can be demonstrated in a number of ways–demanding perks, failing to listen, self-aggrandizing behaviors, etc.
In contrast, humility seeks to learn from others. I once worked for a Dean who, at the conclusion of nearly every meeting, would express how happy he was with the results of meeting before reminding us that “all of us are smarter than any one of us.” Dr. George was humble enough to know that he did not have all the answers.
“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom”
The Difference between Arrogance and Self-Confidence
Arrogance and self-confidence appear to be similar, but there is a simple test to determine whether a leader is self-confident or arrogant: Input. If the leader does not need or take input from the team, you are likely dealing with arrogance. In contrast, it takes a great deal of self-confidence to really listen to perspectives that may be different or even conflicting.
The Business Literature on Humility
It is no wonder that Jim Collins in Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…And Others Don’t suggest the best leaders are a combination of humility and will. He dubbed these leaders “Level 5 Leaders.”
Level 5 Leadership = Humility + Will
[By the way, Good to Great is required reading for anyone serious about business management.]
Kouzes and Posner, authors of The Leadership Challenge, Echo this notion that humility is essential to leadership. They write: “Humility is the only way to resolve the conflicts and contradictions of leadership. You can avoid excessive pride only if you recognize that you’re human and need the help of others” (p. 347).
[The Leadership Challenge is required reading for aspiring leaders.]
Not surprisingly, humility is also one of the drivers of exceptional leadership in social media. Charlene Li wrote about this in Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead.
She wrote, “In my research, people use two words over and over again to describe what was unique about open leaders: Curiosity and Humility” (p. 168).
As it turns out, humility may be even more important in the world of social media where sharing another’s idea is often more important than generating your own.
Are you seeing a pattern yet? How humble are you? Your employees already know the answer.
If you really want to know, have a neutral third-party ask them if they feel listened to, respected, and valued by their boss. You might be surprised by the answer.
November 24, 2012
Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University