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Karin’s Leadership Articles

Managing the Strong, Arrogant, Obnoxious Type

by | Sep 24, 2014 | Authenticity & Transparency, By Karin Hurt, Career & Learning

They come in all shapes and forms. Sometimes it’s talk dark and handsome, with an extra dose of charisma, and two espresso shots of attitude. Or blonde, with a great purse, an MBA from a top 25, and a sarcastic streak that makes everyone in her wake feel like crap. Or the balding dude from finance who can out-gun anyone with a spreadsheet at twenty paces, who won’t even hear your argument for more funding unless you can outwit his wittiness. Or, the been-there-done-that guy who’s “just about done” with all the rookies.

You didn’t select them, but here they are on your team. They’re annoying everyone, but driving results– with implications.  They’re on the fast track, so coaching feels tricky. But deep in your heart you know they’ve got career stalling flaws. What next?

Door Number 1:  Ignore the issues, leverage the strengths, and pray they move on soon.


Door Number 2:  Be the brave leader who has the tough conversation which changes the game, and helps them truly realize their potential.

Sadly, I see so many “leaders” grit their teeth, complain to their spouse, and slip quietly through door number 1, praying the “right” people notice and the “wrong” people (meaning the truly high potential) miss your oversight this time. And that the next leader who manages this guy will have more courage.


  • “After all, this guy’s clearly high-potential.” (Read that: “I’m worried I’ll work for him some day and don’t want to burn any bridges.”
  • “I’m not sure I’m as smart as him. I’d better shut up and listen.” (Read that: “I’m insecure.”)
  • “Sure, she’s obnoxious, but she gets damn good results, and goodness knows we need that right now.”  (Read that: “Why not? Everyone else does.”)
  • “Sure she’s ticking off all her peers, but… maybe she’ll raise the bar.” (Read that: “Crap, maybe this confident humility stuff is all bunk, time to unsubscribe from LGL.”)

How to Address Arrogance:  What To Do Behind Door #2

If you want to change the game, you’ve got to deal with door number 2.

1. Show Concern

Start with. “You’re smart, creative, and highly productive.  But I’m deeply concerned that the way you’re showing up is going to derail your career. Would you be open to some exploration around this issue?”

2. Show Her the Data

If you’re the boss, your opinion will matter a bit, but not if they see you as a temporary stepping stone to tolerate. Do a 360 degree assessment. Have him do it himself, or there are some inexpensive ways to administer a more confidential customized survey (not formally endorsing, but stumbled upon and thought it was cool.)

She’s going to need to hear about specific incidences. I’ll never forget the time my boss said to me. “Your peer had a great idea in the last meeting. How hard would it have been to take out a pen and write that down?”  Yikes.  Amen.

3. Offer Help

When you’re passionate and great at what you do, it’s tricky to see how annoying you are. Ask for permission to point it out the next time. Invent a secret signal if needed.

4. Set A Goal

Get her focused on promoting an idea or person beyond herself. Teach her techniques to get folks to truly listen, even when they don’t want to hear. If she’s really high-potential, she’ll read between the lines and get the sub-text.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today?


  1. Eric

    When working with someone who’s behavior I don’t understand I try and learn more about their story. Then when it’s time for the conversation we can have some real talk about the root of it. No one wants to be this person, and without understanding way it’s hard to get out of our own way.

    • Karin Hurt

      Eric, What a wonderful, compassionate approach. So glad you added that.

  2. Steve Borek

    Behind every the arrogance, hubris, complainer, etc. is a request. The leader’s job is to uncover the request.

    • Karin Hurt

      Steve, that’s a great way to think about it. Hmmm… notice me, respect me, care about me, recognize me, give me more autonomy….
      Great add. Thanks.

  3. Terri Klass

    When arrogant people appear in my work or personal life I ask them to partner with me on an issue or concern. Sometimes by working along side of them, difficult people can open up and show their human side. Ask them for input and suggestions and ideas.

    For me connecting on a one-on-one is always best. Be kind. Be generous. Be clear. If they are smart they will see what you are modeling.

    Thanks Karin!

    • Karin Hurt

      Terri, Beautiful. Build a deeper relationship that leads to partnership and understanding. Perfect.

  4. Lisa Hamaker

    Great article with amazing descriptions Karin – thanks! The responses are so meaningful too. One more possible outcome of this types’ behavior is it’s negative effect(s) on the rest of the team. More reasons to opt for door number 2.

    I especially like the idea of showing her the data, and would take it one step further. In the case you outline, point out how the person probably felt when his idea was ignored.

    I think it’s entirely possible to turn most people like this into team leaders, and therefore team members. As you say it takes courage to start the conversation, but the rewards keep us having them.

    • Karin Hurt

      Lisa, thanks so much. You raise an important point, usually this behavior has a negative impact on the team and can leave people wasting a lot of time just being annoyed. Yup, I’m a big advocate of door #2

  5. Megan

    What advice do you have when this person is a leader?

    • Karin Hurt

      Megan, That’s surely a lot trickier. Ahhh, an imperfect boss, one of my favorite topics. Some of the same rules apply about working to connect and understand the root cause. It may just likely be that there’s some insecurity underneath all that bravado and you may be able to help. You can download a free chapter of my book here, where I talk about how to start the conversation.


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Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  She’s the founder and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. She’s the award-winning author of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul and a hosts the popular Asking For a Friend Vlog on LinkedIn. A former Verizon Wireless executive, Karin was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. Karin and her husband and business partner, David Dye, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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