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Steer clear of arrogance

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in Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills

During the 2008 presidential campaign, some pundits wondered whether Barack Obama’s confidence bordered on arrogance. Managers ask themselves the same question: How can I draw the line between communicating with confidence and driving people away with arrogance?

Confident managers lead by reassuring people. They acknowledge uncertainties without letting risks or unknowns immobilize them. If they don’t know an answer, they say so.

At the same time, they develop theories by applying logical, straightforward analysis. To strengthen their assertions, they cite convincing evidence.

Arrogant people, by contrast, alienate potential allies. They interrupt frequently and brush aside those who dare to disagree. Their stabs at humor inevitably hurt others.

The renowned philosopher Isaiah Berlin said, “A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” Foxes’ breadth of knowledge reflects their willingness to challenge assumptions, admit when they’re wrong and update their opinions based on new information.

Hedgehogs are wedded to a big idea and won’t budge. They speak with passion and seem unshakably sure of themselves while waving off contrary evidence and denigrating those who “just can’t understand.”

If you’re going to earn employees’ respect, radiate confidence without lapsing into arrogance. Poke fun at yourself—not others—and explain your reasoning in simple, transparent terms. Others will believe in you because they accept how you think.

Lessons Learned

Showcase your confidence and avoid arrogance by:

Withholding excess information.

Arrogant people enjoy showing off. They’ll regale you with their vast expertise. Confident leaders tell you just enough to reinforce their credibility and establish their rightness without going overboard and lecturing.

Disagreeing diplomatically.

When you hear something that you deem wrong, make the first words out of your mouth “However,” “That’s one possibility” or “I see it differently.” This signals your intent to present an opposing view in a respectful manner. Arrogant speakers jump in and say “Dead wrong” or “Look, let me educate you” or simply roll their eyes.

Apologizing with sincerity.

You can’t be accused of arrogance if you can say that you’re sorry in a genuine, heartfelt manner.


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