I was reading a 2012 issue of The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist when I came across a very interesting article on arrogance as “a formula for leadership failure.” Stan Silverman (Akron), Russ Johnson (Michigan State) and colleagues have focused years of research on arrogance. They developed a 26-item self-report Workplace Arrogance Scale to study arrogance in the workplace.
In the IOP article they defined arrogance as "engaging in behaviors intended to exaggerate a person’s sense of superiority by disparaging others” (p. 22) It is not the same as narcissism, which is self-admiration, nor is it the same as being confident. Silverman and his co-authors summarized literature and research findings on arrogance and the workplace. Here are some highlights:
- Inflate self-importance; see themselves better than others.
- Purport “to be more knowledgeable than others.”
- “consider their own behavior acceptable.”
- “do not monitor their own interactions when interacting with others.”
- Try “to make others feel inferior.”
- Avoid blame, pin blame on others.
- Discount feedback; less likely to seek feedback
- “often impede effective organizational functioning.”
- Less likely to perform their job well.
- Less likely to help others
Silverman et al. suggested that “workplace arrogance can be a serious problem.” Arrogant people tend to be poor performers who negatively impact workplace climate. The good news is that Silverman and colleagues think people who are arrogant can change those behaviors. They contend humility can be learned; people can develop a more accurate image of themselves. They suggest organizations could use a measure like their arrogance scale as part of performance appraisal. Where needed, individual development plans could be instituted to eliminate the dysfunctional behaviors.
1. This article deserves a large audience. It is easy to confuse arrogance and narcissism. It is easy to think there is nothing that can be done to change a person who is arrogant. If the person who is arrogant is at the top of the organization, that may be true. But the idea of realistic feedback and working with someone to improve workplace behaviors makes sense.
2. My experience is that many supervisors find it difficult to give realistic feedback, whether arrogant behaviors or others. Part of the problem might be waiting until official performance appraisals to give feedback. Great leaders will give feedback when needed as needed. They do not wait to make suggestions to improve behaviors, and hence performance.
3. Regardless, true leaders develop and grow others. In so doing they grow their organizations.
Silverman, S. B., Johnson, R. E., McConnell, N., & Carr, A. (2012). Arrogance: A formula for leadership failure. The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, 50 (1), 21-28.
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© John Ballard, PhD, 2016. All rights reserved.
"Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations is as informed and informative a read as it is thoughtful and thought-provoking. . . Decoding the Workplace should be considered critically important reading for anyone working in a corporate environment." —Midwest Book Review