Summary: How to test if you are arrogant, what arrogance does to your career and life, and how to stop being arrogant and fearful.
This post starts a series of posts to help you elevate your level of executive presence, influence, gravitas, confidence, and communication skills. In this first post, as part of this challenge, we would like to start off with a discussion about dealing with one of the qualities that rob people of the ability to influence and have a genuine connection with people required for effective communication. The idea to start from this insight originated from our recent results clinic for the MasterPlan Acceleration Coaching Program. And you probably guessed already what it is. We are starting our challenge by talking about arrogance and the damage to people’s lives when they are primarily driven by this need for being superior to others.
“Pride goeth before a fall.” proverb
Arrogance Definition and Meaning
Of course, when we speak about arrogance, we are not talking about the pride you feel when you accomplish something hard or the pride you feel about your friend has mastered some new skill.
The meaning of arrogance is an attitude of superiority. It is manifested in an offensive display of superiority and overbearing manner and claims.
An arrogant person exaggerates their self-importance and shows an offensive attitude of superiority toward other people.
5 Actions Commonly Taken by Arrogant People
When we are talking about arrogance, we are talking about the kind of pride that makes people…
– Not ask for help at the risk of appearing inferior. They want to always appear as if they have everything figured out (even though it suffocates their ability to learn and improve)
– Believe they have already achieved enough, and they are entitled to certain things
– Think they should not start something new at the risk of looking inferior in some way (imagine the damage this causes to their life)
– Have a shark’s (vs. dolphin’s) view of the world: believing they can only win if others lose. The pie is only that big. They want all of it or as much as possible of it, and they want to leave others with nothing or with as little as they can get away with.
– Believe they have to be better than others, at any cost. That their success is determined by being better, more successful than others. Even if to achieve this, they work for an inferior (in their own eyes) firm, doing insignificant (in their own eyes) work, when they have opportunities and potential to make an impact on a global scale.
Arrogance Versus Confidence
MBA programs around the world teach you you have to be supremely confident, almost arrogant. It’s all a little bit misleading. Arrogance and confidence are not the same. Confidence refers to the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something, the feeling of certainty about the truth of something. For example, about your ability to figure things out.
We put out a thought-provoking episode on this, which you can find below.
4 Questions to Test If You are Arrogant
Here are ways to test if you allowing arrogance, your need for being superior to others, to drive your life:
More often than you are willing to admit, even to yourself, you put others down to build yourself up. This includes doing this behind their back. Most people do this daily.
You secretly feel happy when someone who you believed is more successful than you fails.
You feel jealous and/or angry when someone succeeds.
You think you can only win if others lose. You are not looking for win-win outcomes.
Keeping Your Ego Within the Bounds of Humility
Many of us have to keep our egos in check. Your ego is both a valuable asset and a potential major liability that can bring your life to ruin.
To make sure you keep it as a valuable asset, you need to keep it within the bounds of humility.
Then it allows for high performance, healthy confidence, and an elevated level of gravitas.
On the other hand, ego without humility becomes pride and turns from superpower to kryptonite.
An Example of Arrogant Behaviour in Clients
I have seen it so many times: in co-workers, acquaintances, coaches I learned from, leaders, and clients.
A typical example I used to see quite often – I see it a lot less now as we became much better at selecting clients to work with – is we would help a client accomplish something they would not be able to accomplish without our help, and you would see them abruptly changing right before your eyes when they think they’ve got everything they wanted from us.
They would get consumed with arrogance and pride, become rude and disrespectful, and start acting and communicating as if they accomplished their goal without our help. They would become entitled. They would make the strategic mistake of breaking bonds with the people who helped them become successful.
Self-confidence becomes entitlement and being self-absorbed. Courage becomes reckless and damaging to all around.
The usual scenario would be such clients would abruptly stop being a client because they would think they don’t need us anymore. They would leave in a way that would leave a very bad impression (on my team and me), and a year or two later, they would be coming back asking for urgent help, sometimes hiding under a different name because of ego (This is a common true story. For example, a former client was writing from one of his email addresses under a different name assuming I did not remember that it was one of the email addresses he used to communicate with earlier).
That behavior is, of course, hurtful primarily for those clients.
If anything, it helped us identify common red flags in prospective clients and made us better at selecting people to work with in a way that doesn’t introduce drama to my life and the lives of my team members.
People with very strong values don’t change into sharks overnight. Those are sharks standing on toes, pretending to be dolphins.
And removing the mask once they feel they don’t need anything from you anymore is what they routinely do. Not just with us. With everyone.
Looking Down on People is Not Something Well Tolerated by Life
When people are in a place of being driven primarily by the need to be better than others, only they can pull themselves out of it, or life will do it for them in short order.
Looking down on people is not something well tolerated by life. It is corrected in a timely manner. And it is corrected harshly. I do not want you to ever experience the type of corrections I observed happening to people when their nose is too high, and the corners of the mouth are too low.
5 Ways to Deal with Arrogance
So how can you STOP allowing arrogance, that need to be better than others, and wanting to show you are better than others by putting people down to drive your life?
To keep arrogance, your ego in check, always demand humility from yourself. And do the opposite:
Instead of being afraid to appear inferior, lean into being brave and doing what you know must be done. For example, if you need to learn a skill, get someone who possesses the skill you want to develop and learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask stupid questions. Understand that pursuit of mastery is more important than the minor embarrassment of not being perfectly perfect in every respect.
Instead of blaming others for how you feel or circumstances, take ownership. What was your part in it?
Instead of being jealous of others’ success, encourage and celebrate others’ success. Feel genuinely happy for others.
Instead of basking in all your achievements and feeling entitled, demand much more of yourself and give credit to those who helped you get there.
Instead of focusing on doing things for money or for prestige, make money but focus on contribution, on the amount of value you add in exchange for money.
Where Arrogance Comes From
The need for arrogance, for being superior to others, comes with fear of not being enough.
Unresolved fear cripples achievement.
And what you need to overcome fear is high purpose.
The need to feel important is one of the human needs. But when it is a predominant need, it is very damaging to a person’s life and the lives of people around.
If you are driven primarily by the need to be more important than other people, you would go to great lengths to always appear superior. You would avoid any group where you would not be able to appear superior. Your learning will be cripled.
Do Not Allow Yourself to Get Stuck in the Past
Now, even if you feel that you allowed arrogance and pride to play a bigger role in your life than you should have, staying in the past would just suffocate your potential. So let it go. We all make mistakes.
Going forward, what you need is a powerful mix of personal humility and professional will, discipline, and focus.
Healthy Way to See Wins and Failures
What I feel helped me a lot in my journey is to see every win as something where while my input was helpful and crucially important, the success also occurred because of some level of luck (things always could have gone much worse) and the right mindset.
And to see failures as something where I had to learn from it, that it was happening for me to help me down the road, so I could develop some skill, meet a person I needed to meet, for me to accomplish what I have to accomplish along my journey.
So taking responsibility for failures and taking advantage of failures (seeing opportunities in failures), but not taking all the credit for success.
In fact, I so deeply believe the point that a lot had to go right for me to be where I am today that I would not trade and go back and be 20 years old again. Even though, for a record, I don’t think anyone would have called me lucky if they could watch my life as a movie.
So why would I not go back if I wasn’t lucky?
First of all, I don’t want to suffer as much as I did to build myself from the ground up again. It was so tough. I often had no money for food. Barely surviving and working at nearly 100% capacity for most of my life required, and still requires, tremendous sacrifice and discipline. You can read my story here.
I still work very hard, but at least now I have a base from which to build. I have a team. I have an established business. I don’t need to worry about meeting basic human needs like the need for food and shelter.
And secondly, so many things could have gone terribly wrong.
Yes, I wasn’t lucky, but a lot could have gone much worse than it did.
So I am not going to bask in pride. But instead, I will focus on feeling grateful for every circumstance that assisted me in making my current reality possible.
The Abundance Mindset Versus the Scarcity Mindset
It is about the abundance mindset versus the scarcity mindset.
Collaborative versus divisive mindset.
Gratitude for everything that could have gone wrong, but didn’t, instead of making excuses.
The first step to ensuring the success of your career and life is to instill or enhance your abundance mindset.
Imagine an image with various versions of you. On the left, you have you, with no confidence and extremely depressed. On the right, you have you consumed with pride, looking down at everyone. The one in the center is a happy and confident person, living life with humility, purpose, and impact.
It is along the path to a meaningful goal that we get to become that person.
Fear Is Not a Strategy
The Chinese government has done a phenomenal job in shepherding the economy to where it is today—a legitimate contender to be the largest economy in the world. China will almost certainly be the world’s largest economy if it isn’t already. Invariably, there’s usually a mistake measuring GDP, so by some measures we don’t know which country has the largest economy right now.
As China has grown, sometimes we overestimate its abilities and sometimes we underestimate them. Sometimes we decide we don’t want to play in a sector because the Chinese are too strong. And sometimes we underestimate them and say we can’t play in the sector because the Chinese are never going to enter it.
Fear cannot be a strategy. You can’t make a decision not to do something because you think someone is too strong—unless you’re certain they’re too strong and you’re certain you can’t respond to that.
You see this often when companies make decisions. They’ll say something like company X is very innovative, very creative, the world leader in its field, and it has a reputation for harnessing artificial intelligence, the internet of things, cloud capabilities, blockchains. They’re very good at it, so we’re not going to compete there.
But you’ll find that in any period, whether it is after financial crisis, whether it is post COVID, a few companies tend to do well, and everyone talks about them like they are perfect. They overestimate their abilities. A lot of people choose not to compete with them because the general media says they’re invincible, but a few choose not to listen to the press and compete anyway. While many companies and individuals will never say that their framework and thinking involves this, their strategy’s biggest consideration is their fear of a competitor. They’ll couch it in words like this company is very innovative, very entrepreneurial, very agile, but you can sum it up as, “We are afraid to take on this company.”
If you have the ability to raise the capital, if you have the ability to harness your employees, if you have the ability to think creatively, but you’re afraid to act, then your strategy is predicated on a principle of fear. Most strategies are done that way. When I was a senior partner, I spoke to many clients, and although they wouldn’t say it initially, many of them were afraid if you read between the lines. When I served a lot of financial services, many of those companies were afraid of how American tech giants were going to come into financial services. I know of insurance companies and banks that chose not to enter certain markets or compete in certain product lines because they were certain that American tech companies were going to do it. They would never say it, and they would have the analysis to show otherwise—but fear is what drove their strategy.
The insight is that when you’re thinking about strategy and interpreting all those numbers, you need to be aware that fear is going to drive your decision making. The way you interpret numbers is your judgment, and fear is a component of that. If you make a decision in strategy because you’re afraid, you are making a decision from a basis of fear. That’s not rational thinking. That’s emotive positioning, and it’s never going to be right. Yes, you need to be aware of competitors, you need to be scared about them, but your strategy cannot be predicated on the idea that because I’m afraid, I can’t compete. How is your fear stopping you from competing? If you’re the CEO and you’re afraid, maybe the solution is to get a new CEO who’s not afraid and then balance that bold CEO with a board that will check what he’s doing so he doesn’t squander money.
Remember that fear cannot be a component of strategy.