Mary Kelly

When Confidence Turns to Arrogance (Mary Kelly)

Winning Well Connection

Why Leaders Fail

Click on the image for more information about Mary’s book.

Mary has been an amazing supporter of David’s from early in his professional speaking career and an amazing friend. As she said on David and my engagement, “I feel like I’m gaining a sister.” 

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. When leaders are confident, they have a deep belief in their ability to make a difference in the world. Confidence is an important competency in leadership, and it is critical to a leader’s success. Confidence is motivating and inspirational to others. Confidence empowers people to take risks, be innovative, and pushes the team and organization further ahead.

Arrogance crosses the line of confidence. Arrogant people believe they no longer have a need to learn, grow, or change. They wholeheartedly believe they are right and others are wrong.

Arrogance destroys the valuable, and absolutely essential relationships a leader has with other team members. Even more devastating is the feeling arrogant behavior creates in others. People have no desire or motivation to follow an arrogant leader. Sometimes the arrogance is so repugnant that people cheer when arrogant people fail, even if it means they suffer as well.

If other people agree with arrogant leaders, they are considered by those leaders to be smart and are often favored. If people question an arrogant leader’s decisions or recommendations, they are often labeled as unintelligent or punished. For an arrogant leader, disagreement equals ignorance and disloyalty. When this happens, subordinates and peers learn not to challenge the leader, even when he or she is clearly wrong. Not only do arrogant leaders belittle those who disagree with them, but they often do so in the most condescending and patronizing way possible.

It is difficult to work for an arrogant person, but it is also difficult having one work for you. When people believe they are the smartest, most competent person in the workplace, they frequently fail to follow directions, refuse guidance, and ignore feedback. This destroys both teamwork and productivity.

How can leaders be both confident and humble leaders? From our book, Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success, great leaders:

1. Admit and accept when they make mistakes, and they apologize to the team for letting them down.

2. Demonstrate accountability and take responsibility for the actions of their team. They know that “the buck” really does stop here. They give the team credit for the wins while they take responsibility for the failures.

3. Communicate and act in a respectful manner at all times. To everyone. Always. Great leaders are not rude, and they treat others with grace and dignity.

4. Be open-minded and willing to learn something new. Great leaders know they need other people’s wisdom and abilities, and they appreciate the knowledge around them.

5. Show gratitude. Great leaders give praise and recognition to the right people at the right time. Humble leaders habitually recognize great contributions that make a difference. At home, at work, and in their daily routines, great leaders find it easy to say “thank you” and recognize someone for how they make a difference.

6. Practice forgiveness. People make mistakes. If people are not making mistakes, they are not innovating. Great leaders know that they have to learn from mistakes and move on.

7. Ask for honest feedback, and act on it. Great leaders welcome 360 leadership assessments. They want to improve and they seek ways to become even better.

Leadership is not easy. Being a humble and confident leader takes heart as well as ability.

Mary Kelly and Peter Stark are the co-authors of Why Leaders Fail and the 7 Prescriptions for Success. They can be found at Mary@ProductiveLeaders.com and Peter@PeterStark.com.

Winning Well Reflection

Mary has provided such a fantastic list of ways to keep your confidence from bleeding over into arrogance. Most leaders who struggle with confidence worry that they’ll be perceived as arrogant. You won’t – more likely, you’ll be perceived as trustworthy. Thanks, Mary, for the great examples of how to combine confidence and humility to increase your influence and credibility.

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