Monday, September 22, 2008

Has Your Confidence Turned Into Arrogance?

As we can all witness after the latest debacle on Wall Street, there are plenty of big egos when it comes to big business.

A picture is emerging of decision-makers who have reaped millions of dollars in in compensation and benefits as their companies went down the toilet. Now, of course, Congress is getting involved, and those big egos are going to be aired -- and criticized -- in public.

Most of us will tut-tut their behavior ("Those greedy bastards," we'll grouse), and some of us will even learn a thing or two from their bad personal and professional judgment. Unfortunately, many of us will go back to behaving just as we always have -- as the same kind of arrogant beings intent on achieving our own ends through our own means.

Don't get me wrong. I know that confidence is needed in the working world. Without it, you'll get run over and be nothing but career roadkill. But there comes a point -- and I think this is it -- when we need to all take a hard look at how we go about getting what we want.

In other words, has your confidence turned into arrogance?

My dictionary defines arrogant as: "Overly convinced of one's own importance; overbearingly proud; haughty." Now, contrast that with the definition of confidence: "A feeling of assurance or certainty."

We all know those who are arrogant in the workplace. We don't really like them. We don't want to be on teams with them because they believe they are walking books of knowledge on just about any subject, and they rarely listen to anyone but themselves. They believe that just by showing up, success will follow.

But recognizing that arrogance in ourselves may be tougher. We believe we have earned the right to our views, and don't have time to suffer fools. We are impatient with others who don't seem to "get it" and wonder why they don't understand our talent is special and unique. We don't think we are arrogant, just confident.

I can't predict what the outcome of this Wall Street bailout will be, because I'm not an economist. But I can tell you that with the closer scrutiny of leadership behavior in the coming months, it's going to trickle down to all parts of the business sector. There is going to be less tolerance, I believe, of arrogance.

That's why today I'm hoping to save you some pain in the coming months. I challenge you to think about whether your confidence has turned into something more damaging. I urge you to think about not how you see yourself -- but how others see you. Do your actions really align with who you are and where you want to go?

Think about:

* Listening. Do you brush over others' opinions, or not ask for them at all? Even the most confident person values ideas from other people, but the arrogant worker believes he/she has all the answers.
* Admitting mistakes. Arrogance doesn't leave any room for acknowledging an error; pride prevents learning anything from a mistake. Those with enough confidence to own up to a mistake not only earn more respect from others, they gain useful insight on avoiding the problem in the future.
* Reaching back. When you have confidence, you're not afraid to help train or educate workers with less knowledge or skill. You see it as a chance to enhance the overall product or effort. If you're arrogant, you see it as a waste of time to work with those less skilled than you (which takes in almost everyone).
* You believe your own press. You're mentioned in company newsletters as a star performer, the boss recognizes you in meetings for your contributions and if you Google your name -- whoo boy! You start to rest on your laurels, believing your touch to be golden. While that is certainly a boost to your confidence, and should be enjoyed, you need to remember that your career success can often rest on a "what have you done for me lately" attitude. That's why it's important to make sure you interact often with people who disagree with you -- or don't even like you. They'll keep that ego from heading into arrogance.

What are some other signs of arrogance?


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Monday, June 2, 2008

Arrogance: It Will Bite You On the Ass Eventually

I started thinking a lot about arrogance this weekend when I attended my oldest son's high school graduation. I mean, let's be honest here: Who is more arrogant than a freshly-minted, 18-year-old kid with a diploma in hand?

And, that's how it should be. Everyone should have a period in their lives when they believe the world is their oyster. They should enjoy those moments when they just know they're the smartest, coolest thing on the planet and the rest of us are utter fools.

But then life will smack them around a bit, like it does everyone. (I got the headline for this post from a poster showing a bunch of college kids dazed with disbelief as their top team got beaten by somebody who wasn't supposed to be able to do it.)

Still, these young people will pick themselves up and realize they still have a lot of work to do, just as most of us have done. In the end, they will emerge as better human beings with a lot to offer. They will have gotten the message that arrogance serves no real purpose because it's not based on reality.

Or, is it? Is it now a part of our society, along with the 24/7 coverage of every Paris Hilton burp or every word spoken by a presidential candidate two years before the election?

Some people still worry that they come across as arrogant when they are told to promote themselves through things like blogging, or e-mails that update others on their career accomplishments. But isn't that kind of information a sign of someone's hard work? Do we begrudge others their accolades for working hard?

Or, do we dislike arrogance because it shows that the person wants to take a short-cut? Is arrogance becoming more acceptable in the workplace and in life?


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