February 14, 2020
How do people make the judgment that a leader is arrogant or humble? Arrogant leaders don’t parade around with a badge indicating they are conceited. Yet, there is a high degree of consensus within organizations about who is humble and who is arrogant. The reality is that there are a set of very predictable behaviors that send clear signals about an individual’s humility or arrogance.
Finding the Offenders
I asked a group of 1,072 leaders to rate themselves on the extent they “Avoided acting arrogantly and tried to listen and learn from others.” Using a 360-degree assessment, each leader was also evaluated on this behavior by their manager, peers, direct reports, and others. (On average, 18 raters provided feedback.) Next, I identified those leaders who rated themselves as being above average on not acting arrogantly, but other raters rated them below average. Exactly 216 leaders were in this category. Ironically, this is the very definition of arrogance. To find our humble leaders, we compared those who rated themselves below average, while others rated them above average. There were only 148 leaders that fell into this category.
Humble versus Arrogant: Which Kind of Leader is Most Effective?
How does one find out the true impact of arrogance? First, I compared these two groups on an overall leadership effectiveness index composed of 54 behaviors that differentiate the most effective from the least effective leaders. Arrogant leaders were rated at the 34th percentile, while humble leaders were rated at the 66th percentile. This is a huge difference that was highly significant (t value = 12.26, sig. 0.000). Humble leaders were almost two times more effective.
Arrogant Leaders Don’t Often Realize They’re Arrogant
For many people, the perception of being arrogant is surprising. Sadly, it’s often not their intention, but poor performance on a series of crucial behaviors reinforces this impression. After analyzing the effectiveness ratings on the 54 behaviors, I identified eight that influence the perception of arrogance the most. Leaders who improve these behaviors will discover a significant decrease in the negative perception of arrogance that others have about them.
Demonstrating that people are just as important as results. The arrogant leader believes that results are the ultimate goal, and if a few people get negatively affected, that’s just the cost of doing business. The humble leaders understand the balance of achieving while still being sensitive to individual needs. They also believe if you take care of people, they will be more engaged and dedicated, which will produce better results in the long run.
Focused on gaining trust from others. Humble leaders do everything they can to build up trust with others. They are more effective on the key levers that build trust, which are: creating positive relationships, consistently delivering on their promises, and providing expertise and good judgment.
Success comes for cooperation. The arrogant leader believes that they can accomplish goals on their own. They resist collaboration because they want all the credit for themselves. The humble leaders know that organizational success comes from people working together. They ask others for help and resist taking credit for the accomplishments of others.
Leaders need to be role models and walk their talk. When humble leaders ask others to do something, they make sure they do it first. Arrogant leaders are okay with asking others to do what they do not do. They are fine with having a double standard, or perhaps they don’t see it. In many ways, they act as though they are a privileged class where rules for others do not apply to them.
Staying in touch with others. Arrogant leaders are frequently unaware and uninterested when team members experience personal problems. They are focused on their work and reaching their goals. Humble leaders stay in touch and show concern and consideration for others.
Ask for and acts on feedback from others. Humble leaders ask others for feedback and work hard to implement their suggestions for change. Arrogant leaders feel that they do not want or need feedback from others. In fact, they often feel that asking for feedback would signal a lack of confidence in themselves. Therefore, they resist asking.
Resolves conflict. Arrogant leaders tend to create conflict with others. This is due, in part, to a belief that conflict is a good thing that fuels competitive energy from others. Humble leaders feel that conflict creates a negative work environment and work hard to resolve conflicts.
Gives others honest feedback. The arrogant leaders believe their job is to be the judge and let others know when they make mistakes. Their feedback is almost always negative and corrective. The humble leader realizes that honest feedback needs to reflect an individual’s performance.
These eight behaviors listed above represent the largest differences between arrogant and humble leaders. Looking over the list, it isn’t difficult to realize why humble leaders win. In many ways, humble leaders believe that leadership is “the ability to get work done through others.” In contrast, arrogant leaders believe leadership is “the ability to get work done by others.” Arrogant leaders believe in me. Humble leaders believe in we.
—Dr. Joe Folkman
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