The arrogant leader

For years, companies have been tolerating arrogant leaders who sometimes fail to bring any positive tangible results. How do we deal with their arrogance? How do we get to focus more on humility and leadership competence? 

This is our second article focusing on leadership confidence.

We live in a world where ego gets attention, but modesty gets results.

Where arrogance makes headlines, but humility makes a difference.

Bill Taylor

In our first article on this subject, we discussed the importance of building the right amount of leadership confidence, that would help (1) improve the employees’ and companies’ performance; (2) have an overall positive effect on economic development and (3) influence positively the trust that people give to the institutions coming from the private business sector. 

In this second part, we focus on how to identify unhealthy confidence levels in leadership. We also examine their impact on employees and companies and we suggest how to deal with these levels. 

Unhealthy confidence level – the 4 DISC behavioural work styles

In order to understand how healthy or unhealthy confidence levels are, we will use DISC – a methodology that we apply to our Learning & Development programmes and Business Consulting & Coaching engagements. We also use it in the recruitment, selection, motivation, and engagement process for our team members. 

In a nutshell – DISC is a methodology that allows us to identify various work behaviours categorised under four main behavioural profiles: Dominance (D), Influence (I), Steadiness (S), and Compliance (C). By knowing how to recognise these behaviours, people in an organisation can learn how to collaborate more effectively with their stakeholders and manage their own work behaviours, as well as those of their direct reports. 

The graph below gives a quick overview of the characteristic strenghts, and possible limitations, for each of the four behavioural profiles. In reality, everyone is somewhat of a mix between these profiles but, for simplicity and ease of understanding, we will explain these profiles referring only to their most dominant characteristic.

DISC Behavioural work styles – essential characteristics

While some profiles display a naturally high level of confidence, others are naturally more insecure.  

Confidence levels in High D and High I

People with high levels of D and I (High D and High I) are often energetic and charismatic and love to be involved in a variety of activities (and be the centre of attention), although coming from different motivations.

The High D is super-confident that he/she can manage any challenge, get the result he/she wants (or needs to achieve) and be seen as the one who succeeds, while the High I is driven by the diversity of challenges, activities, interactions, and opportunity to shine and be appraised by others.

Both profiles can slip into an arrogant leadership style, relying heavily on their personality when making decisions, rather than on their competence.  When this happens, they prefer to listen to their own instinct, beliefs, and emotions.

Both profiles can slip into an arrogant leadership style, relying heavily on their personality when making decisions, rather than on their competence.  When this happens, they prefer to listen to their own instinct, beliefs, and emotions.

In this “arrogant mode”, they are convinced that they are right and that they know best – making it difficult for them to receive or process feedback and improve based on it.

High Ds aim to hit their goals and be recognised for it and in doing so, they can be very direct, blunt and even sarcastic. They can often over-ride others to attain their goals.

Concerned with taking the spotlights and about how people perceive them, High Is can persuade people to the behaviour they want, possibly falling into manipulation and, due to their need to be liked by others, they can switch to both sides of an argument without even realising it, losing all objectivity.

Confidence levels in High S and High C

On the other side of the confidence level, we have High S and High C leaders. They tend to be more inwardly-oriented. High Ss are known to be dependable and precise team players, while High Cs are known for their accuracy and systematic approach to things.

A High S or High C will not be as outspoken as a High D or a High I, tending to be more accommodating and submissive rather than pushing for his/her own idea. Their decision-making process is usually slower, as they gather various data and information to support their point of view and the solutions they propose.

A High S or High C will not be as outspoken as a High D or a High I, tending to be more accommodating and submissive rather than pushing for his/her own idea. Their decision-making process is usually slower, as they gather various data and information to support their point of view and the solutions they propose.

While High Ds and High Is are embracing changes sometimes with an inexplicable easiness, High Ss and High Cs process change differently. They need time to understand, adapt and need to have processes in place that would make the shift easier (or be the ones creating them). 

That said, there is also an important difference regarding their confidence levels. High Ss form deep and close relationships with small groups of people that they trust and, as they tend to be specialists in their domain, they can speak at ease about their position and knowledge on the matter but, when challenged, they will make efforts to accommodate other opinions and will yield their own (they can hold a grudge for it, while not expressing it openly). As leaders, they tend to be humble, very accommodating, inclusive and will prefer to take decisions slowly, and often together with a team.

High Cs can be very self-confident as they will have analysed all possible data to ensure they are right and will often be very outspoken about their point of view, even demanding that things are done in a certain way. However, as their biggest challenge is managing conflict, they will submit their position, especially when challenged by someone in a higher positions. However, as leaders, they can be extremely demanding and critical and will often impose their way of doing things, not being very open to other ways of doing things.

All profiles can be highly competent and successful, but if there is also a lack of emotional intelligence, that allows them to understand their potential limitations and how to manage them, some of these profiles can steer into arrogance very easily.

Most businesses are led by High Ds, High Is, even High Cs, while High Ss are rarely seen in C-level positions and, as we have seen, they all balance their needs and their teams’ needs and expectations quite differently. All profiles can be highly competent and successful, but if there is also a lack of emotional intelligence, that allows them to understand their potential limitations and how to manage them, some of these profiles can steer into arrogance very easily.

Type of behaviourChange adoptionSelf-confidence coming mainly fromDecision making
HIGH DEasyPersonality, charm, charismaCan rely on personality when making decisions
HIGH IEasyPersonality, charm, charismaCan rely on personality when making decisions
HIGH SSlowerExpertise and closeness to a small group of peopleWill include the team in the decision-making process; non-conflictual attitude when confronted by superiors
HIGH CSlowerKnowledge and dataCan often impose their way of doing things; non-conflictual attitude when confronted by superiors
DISC behavioural leadership workstyles briefly explained

Tolerating arogance, overlooking humility

Arrogant leaders are often tolerated by employees, customers, and investors because many believe that the confidence they display brings results and better performance to the company. Also, people tend to judge a leader based on their external manifestation: strong, charismatic leaders are often preferred to their humbler counterparts, even if the latter are sometimes more competent to handle leadership roles. This is because of a mirroring effect, that we apply to make sense of other people’s behaviours. What you show is what you are, therefore if you manifest your confidence externally, you must also be competent. This sometimes also goes the other way around, i.e. a person who expresses his/her doubts and uncertainty is often not viewed as a competent, confident leader.

In a recent study with more than 1000 leaders, Joseph Folkman found out that humble leaders are 2 times more effective than the arrogant ones.

Arrogant leaders are not necessarily as competent as we think. In a recent study with more than 1000 leaders, Joseph Folkman found out that humble leaders are 2 times more effective than the arrogant ones. There are other studies that came to the same conclusions. In the long run, an arrogant leader has a negative impact on its employees, investors, and customers. 

The leadership image which we often default to, built for centuries by politicians and business people, is associated with blind decisiveness, charisma and a strong personality.  We still need to get used to the humble leadership style, where limits are respected and emphasis is put on results, and the team that brought those results, not on the leader’s personality. 

On the other side, the leaders that show humility are often seen as insecure, because their decision-making process is based on their level of competence and they don’t have an issue recognising their own limits. Instead, others may perceive this as a sign of vulnerability or insecurity. The leadership image which we often default to, built for centuries by politicians and business people, is associated with blind decisiveness, charisma and a strong personality.  We still need to get used to the humble leadership style, where limits are respected and emphasis is put on results, and the team that brought those results, not on the leader’s personality. 

When arrogance manages humility or insecurity

What happens when you have an arrogant leader who manages humble or insecure staff? He/She often overwhelms the team causing them to disengage from the organisation. In other words, the Leader can become, what we call at XTENSOS, a Chief Disengagement Officer. Here are some examples of how an arrogant leader can disengage his/her team:

  • Taking all of the credit for the work that the team has done.
  • Evalauting the team based on personality and not performance – the louder you are, the better.
  • Ignoring and not listening to the feedback coming from the team.
  • Expecting the team to tolerate his/her personality outbursts and requiring a complete submission and adaptation from the team.

While the arrogant leader often thinks that these behaviours are helping them maintain their personality-based power and influence, they will instead lead to a so-called falling dominos effect. At first, the leader will start slowly losing the trust of his/her team. People won’t be as motivated to work when their efforts aren’t recognised and are even sometimes overlooked as individuals. Productivity will decrease. 

The last falling domino is employee engagement itself. People will no longer be invested in their work, discouraged by the flaws they are seeing in their leadership team. At some point, they will just leave the company. This often leads to a huge cost for organisations, not only in terms of turnover, recruitment, selection and onboarding, but especially in losing talent which could make a valuable contribution now and into the future.

Managing an arrogant leader

Companies often choose to keep a leader in place for many years, while several people will have left because the leader cannot produce performance without driving or even bullying the team to the point of burn-out. This choice often comes at a great cost for the company, expressed in higher employee turnover rates, increased costs for recruitment, selection, and training, decreased productivity and lower employee engagement rates. 

One of the most important things that organisations need to learn is how to distinguish between real and masked competence.

One of the most important things that organisations need to learn is how to distinguish between real and masked competence. Leadership performance can offer valuable insights for this. Is there an increasing turnover rate in the company? Is it related to a certain leader? Have you heard a lot of negative feedback oriented towards a certain leader? Do the projects he/she is involved with tend to cause a lot of friction within and between teams, with few tangible results? These may be some of the warning signs that leaders are making decisions based on their personality but not based on any competence. 

Managing arrogance, especially when it comes to leaders, is not an easy, short-term challenge.  These are some of the actions a company can take:       

  1. Involve other executives, including the CEO, in tempering the personal leadership style of the arrogant leader and emphasizing the need to lead with competence.
  2. Executive coaching may help an arrogant leader to increase his/her self-awareness and hence control the overall level of arrogance that the leader displays.
  3. In the most critical of cases, where the executive does not express any desire to manage their level of arrogance and also does not acknowledge the issues arising from their leadership style, the best solution is to consider replacing them with a more emotionally intelligent leader who will achieve better results without disengaging their team members.      

Before considering the third solution, we always recommend a combination of GoActive Management and Executive Coaching/Mentoring sessions for the arrogant leader. This will help the arrogant leader to focus more on leading, based on competence, while learning how to manage their own behaviour.

Our GoActive Management training course not only helps leaders to manage their teams, but also their interactions with the senior management team, customers, and various other stakeholders.  Our Executive Coaching & Mentoring sessions helps managers be more self-aware and build a stronger external confidence to reflect their competence. 

Our programmes use the DISC approach, which enables managers and executives to lead and manage their teams despite the limitations of their behavioural profile and learn some of the triggers that will motivate or demotivate certain people. 

Our programmes use the DISC approach, which enables managers and executives to lead and manage their teams despite the limitations of their behavioural profile and learn some of the triggers that will motivate or demotivate certain people.  Using DISC, we can generate a Personal Profile Analysis (PPA), which is a report highlighting the type of work behaviours that are most dominant in a person, their strengths, motivators and weaknesses.  These reports are especially useful for managing other people depending on their profile, as well as increasing self-awareness.

If you would like to learn more about our leadership development solutions, feel free to contact us. We will be happy to explore your current situation and offer you value-added solutions.

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