Sunday, October 21, 2012

The dangers of arrogance in leadership

Arrogance: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or in presumptuous claims or assumptions (Webster). 

Arrogance is one of the potential pitfalls of leadership, especially for highly gifted leaders whose drive and ambition combined with a high degree of self importance and a lack of accountability fuel an ever heightened sense of imperious assurance. 


What are the signs of leadership arrogance? 


Self importance. Arrogance is, after all, all about self. These are leaders who truly believe that they are somehow different from normal human beings. They often speak about what they are doing in extravagant ways and rarely ask about what others are doing. Their focus in on themselves, their ministry and their contribution to the kingdom. The common theme is that it is about them.


Imperious assurance. This is a grossly over confident attitude that what they are doing is right, that it will always work and is often combined with extravagant claims. Any time you hear someone say that what they are doing is going to change the world or the church or something forever, beware. It is often simply the extravagant assurance of an imperious and arrogant mind.


Superiority. This is the natural outcome of arrogance. The belief that one is superior to others and that the decisions they make are better decisions than what others could make. This often plays out in marginalizing other good people because they are by nature not as good or bright or strategic as themselves. The way to elevate oneself is almost always to de-elevate others in some way.


Unaccountability. Arrogant leaders will never admit that they are unaccountable but what they often do is to simply ignore those who  disagree with them (even if it is their board or close colleagues) and do what they are intent on doing. Because the rules do not apply to them and because they are so confident that they are right they simply forge ahead with their agenda regardless of the voices that try to speak into their lives or plans. 


If someone becomes an obstacle to them or strongly disagrees with them they are often marginalized and shunted aside. Arrogant leaders listen to those who fuel their self importance and discount those who don't. Often, those who were once close are discarded once they take the risk of disagreeing with them.


A force of nature. A force of nature is an apt description for highly arrogant leaders. They simply go where they want to go and do what they want to do regardless of who or what is in their path. In many cases, people intentionally get out of the way because being in their way is dangerous. Often boards or colleagues are unwilling to go up against them because the push back is so severe and the ability of arrogant leaders to sell their case and negotiate their way to what they want is exhausting. 


This is nothing other than raw intimidation to get their way. They know it but they also know that they can do it and that others will often scatter. Arrogant leaders are often highly skilled in manipulating those around them to get their way. That manipulation may be flattery, intimidation, anger, marginalization, negotiation, or just stubborn wills that refuse to be bent. What it amounts to is that they intend to get their way no matter what.


Risk and adrenalin. Massive arrogance causes unhealthy leaders to take risks that healthy leaders would never take. They posture the risk as game changing moves that will yield some amazing result. Often, it is risk and the adrenalin of running at warp speed, fueled by situations that must be solved (by them of course) that feeds their ego and need for stimulation. 


This is particularly dangerous in a ministry setting because it puts the entire ministry at risk if decisions are made that compromise it, and arrogant leaders are prone to take risks that others would not. Those risks are usually more for the fulfillment of their own ambitions than for the sake of the ministry they lead. They feed on crisis and complex situations that only they can solve.


It is not unusual for other leaders to not even know of some of the risks that the ministry has been subject to because in their unaccountably many arrogant leaders don't feel a need to disclose everything. They tend to disclose what they want people to know and keep close to their vest what they don't want to be known.


It should be obvious that these characteristics of arrogance are not only signs of dysfunctionality (think narcissistic personality disorder) but dangerous to the ministry they lead. In many cases, these leaders eventually crash themselves and the ministry they are leading. Often they move on and never acknowledge the damage they have done. In fact, their take is that whatever happened is someone else's fault. It is how they are wired because life is about them.


Whatever you do, if you see these characteristics, don't ignore them.


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