The Line Between Confidence and Arrogance

Is there a line between being a highly skilled, confident, and knowledgeable leader, and an arrogant leader? Most definitely. The question is where is that point where leaders cross over. The problem with arrogant leaders is no one ever believes they are arrogant. As a coach and advisor, we work with a number of leaders who are at the line or have crossed it. Very few leaders start out over the line.  In these cases, they usually have highly technical skills in an area, or have a high aptitude in a particular area where management is willing to overlook their level of arrogance in order to gain access to the valued set of skills. Most often, it happens over time; one concession at a time.

So, where is that line? It is when a leader truly believes they have nothing left to learn from either other people. in life, from their job, or in general. That, coupled with the believe that they are always right and others are wrong.  When these two factors come into play, an arrogant leader is born. 

To avoid crossing that line, there are some tactics that you can practice that will keep your leadership on track, as well as keep you from crossing the line between an arrogant leader and one that is highly skilled and confident.

  1. Never stop building relationships. We find that great leaders are always looking to build relationships at all levels of the organization. When you are able to build strong relationships with your team members and other department leaders, you are able to move initiatives forward and be successful. For arrogant leaders, since they believe they are smarter than everyone else, they do not see the value, or need, to build or maintain relationships with others.  When you don’t have strong relationships, it is harder to accomplish your goals without followers.

  2. Don’t forgot to show humility. When you believe you are the smartest person in the room, you are unwilling to learn, grow, change, or admit you might be wrong. You may be the smartest person in the room technically, or in a specific area, but when it comes to emotional intelligence and building strong relationships, arrogant leaders fail miserably. Arrogant people really believe they know it all. They do not. Being humble and realizing the areas that you don’t have experience in, or admit you might be wrong, will keep highly skilled leaders from crossing the line to arrogance. 

  3. Never stop learning. We have always said, great leaders are great learners. When you stop being willing to learn new things, you encapsulate yourself in that moment in time and will quickly be passed by progress on the path to irrelevance. Another form of learning is being willing to take feedback from others. If you believe you are always right, then it is hard to accept feedback from someone else that you might be wrong. Most arrogant leaders wholeheartedly will reject any and all feedback and become upset at the idea that they would be wrong. No leader is strong in every area of leadership. The strong leaders recognize this and delegate those areas to others that have the strength they lack. This makes for a strong team and allows the leader to focus on areas they are strong. When someone gives you constructive feedback, thank them for caring enough to tell you.
  4. Work toward an open mind. 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 an arrogant 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. 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.

  5. Don’t overplay your confidence. Arrogant leaders may be the smartest person in a specific area, the area they were hired for. Being an expert breeds confidence. It is okay to be confident. People are motivated and inspired by confidence. But when confidence is overplayed, it crosses the line to arrogance. 

To not be overconfident, remember the tips in this article: never stop learning, be humble, seek and accept feedback, keep an open mind, show trust and confidence in your staff and others to develop strong leaders, and always practice respectful communication. 

Arrogant leadership can devastate teams though 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. 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.

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