Thursday, December 08, 2022

The problem of arrogance

| November 6, 2022 4:00 AM

A young, foolish pilot wanted to sound cool and show who was boss on the aviation frequencies. So, the first time he approached an airfield at night, instead of making his official request to the tower, he said, "Guess who?"

The controller, unimpressed by the arrogant newbie, switched the field light off and replied, "Guess where!"

Of all the human failings that can destroy a business, arrogance is the deadliest. It is the most readily acquired, the easiest to justify and the hardest to recognize in ourselves. We know arrogance when we see it, and we know it is wrong.

When we're successful, we reason, don't we deserve a bit of special consideration? Aren't we important enough to avoid the everyday annoyances and the tedious responsibilities that ordinary mortals must endure? No one is "entitled" to be dishonest or greedy, but a bit of smugness, well, that's just natural in a leader. We accept it. We even nurture it as a sign of success.

There is nothing at all wrong with being proud of your company and the work you do. In fact, if you don't take pride in your work, you are probably not doing the best job you can do. But pride and arrogance aren't the same thing.

Arrogance is defined as engaging in behaviors intended to exaggerate a person's sense of superiority by disparaging others. It's not the same as narcissism, which is self-admiration. Nor is arrogance the same as being confident, which I consider a positive trait.

Unfortunately, many leaders today confuse confidence with arrogance. Confidence in one's ability is a critical element in the willingness to take risks while still steering the ship. Arrogance takes risks by assuming everyone will get on board even when the boat has a hole in it.

Arrogance is a trait that society often tolerates and rewards, especially in professions like politics and business. A study conducted at Yale University found that arrogant attitudes begin to develop early in life. These researchers confirmed that children between the ages of 5 and 7 years old begin to show signs of arrogant thinking because they believe they know more than adults like their parents.

Arrogant people are easily identified by the behaviors they exhibit.

For example, they always want to be in the spotlight. They need to be the center of attention. They don't give others a chance to speak and often interrupt people.

They are more concerned with looking good than with doing a good job. They don't like doing dirty or tedious jobs. They take credit for other people's work. If you have ever worked for a boss like that, learn from their poor example and vow to treat others better when you move into a supervisory role.

Arrogant people rarely admit they are wrong, and they don't like to be challenged. They blame others when things go awry and seldom apologize or say they are sorry. Their facade is easily shattered, however, when their staff bolts and they are left to fend for themselves.

They don't like feedback and get very defensive. They have a hard time reflecting on failures and weaknesses. I like to say they get chapped lips from kissing the mirror too much.

Arrogant people turn everything into a competition and will step on anyone who gets in their way. They hate to lose. They have certain expectations and want everything to go according to their plan, disregarding the merits of others' ideas.

Anyone who doesn't agree with them is deemed an enemy or threat. They treat people who aren't like them poorly. Arrogant people typically don't have a lot of friends because they have trouble building sincere relationships. They care more about winning than about friendship. Their negative qualities drive people away.

Summed up, arrogant people have little sense of self-awareness, and despite their best efforts, are easily identifiable.

Here's another story to illustrate my point. A man who thought highly of himself stepped on a coin-operated scale that voiced his weight. The high-tech machine then dispensed a card with comments about his personality. He read the card and with a broad smile covering his face, he handed it to his friend to read. She took it and read aloud, "You are a well-built, enthusiastic, dynamic leader, admired by your peers."

In disbelief, she read it once again and commented with a smile, "Just remember, the machine had your weight wrong too."

Mackay's Moral: Knowledge makes people humble. Arrogance makes people ignorant.

• • •

Harvey Mackay is the author of the New York Times bestseller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his website,, by emailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.

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