Avoid the pitfalls of arrogance

arrogant businessmanIn 2009, CNBC named Robert Nardelli as one of the worst American CEOs of all time. While that verdict may sound harsh, the former leader of Home Depot and Chrysler didn’t do himself any favors with his arrogant behavior.

Nardelli, 68, led Home Depot from 2000 to 2007. His domineering personality, brutal cost cutting and $240 million pay package didn’t help his relationship with employees.

Top leaders look for opportunities to stay close to their workforce. Nardelli, by contrast, sought to separate himself from employees.

He secured a private elevator in Home Depot’s home office that took him directly from his designated parking spot to his executive suite without stopping at any other floors. Word spread that Nardelli didn’t want to interact with employees.

To make matters worse, he only ate lunch in the private dining room with other senior executives. A private chef prepared his meals.

Employees dining in the regular cafeteria resented that their CEO never joined them.

Some executives try to convey their power by remaining aloof. But that usually backfires because staffers tend to trust leaders who are able to listen and learn from others.

As a test, consider how you conduct yourself in casual conversation with employees. If you do most of the talking—and often tell long stories or lecture them on what you want them to do or think—you risk coming across as arrogant. But if you ask questions and show curiosity in their answers, you are less likely to bear the brunt of their derision when you’re not around.

— Adapted from Impact, Tim Irwin, BenBella Books.