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Paradigm of Leadership: Contrasting Arrogance and Humility

Effective leadership is a delicate balance between confidence and humility. Confidence rooted in competence and driven by transferrable experience influences humility. Confidence rooted in context alone is the foundation of arrogance as not all experiences are relevant or applicable. In this blog, we'll explore the characteristics of leaders driving from a place of humility versus those driving from a place of arrogance, how each is demonstrated on a team, and the impact they have on a team's functional dynamic.

Arrogant leadership refers to a style characterized by one's excessive sense of self-importance often coupled with a tendency to dismiss or devalue the opinions, contributions, and perspectives of others. Oftentimes, most do not set out to be an "arrogant" leader, but rather, it is a result of insecurities, past successes, fear of vulnerability, organizational culture, or simply a lack of self-awareness. Arrogance in leadership often manifests in the following ways:

  1. Dismissive or Authoritative: Conveys a sense that their idea or view is the one that is right or the only one that matters, makes decisions unilaterally, and expects unquestionable alignment from the team.

  2. Refuses to Receive Feedback: Often views feedback as a challenge to their authority and may characterize the one providing feedback as being a difficult employee or dismiss as simply unaware.

  3. Lacks Accountability: Even if a leader provides runway for a team member to own a specific project, if it fails, the leader quickly points fingers and scoffs all accountability for it.

  4. Micro-managing: Again, often a result of the leader believing their view or idea is best, they will often involve themselves in every step of the process to re-assert their opinion or reinforce their right idea.

  5. Sense of Entitlement or Expectation: Believes by position alone they deserve to be included or afforded trust without actually working to develop it.

  6. Favoritism: Aligns themself with a certain group or person(s), often marginalizing or excluding others.

In contrast, humble leadership is often influenced by a combination of personal attributes, experiences, and intentional choices. Oftentimes, leaders who have faced adversity or setbacks may develop humility through those experiences. Overcoming challenges often instills a sense of humility and resilience, which drives a leader to seek different learning opportunities to overcome them and instills a greater growth mindset in the process. Humility in leadership is demonstrated in the following way:

  1. Seeks Contributions from Others: Conveys a sense that they may have limited capacity to fully understand how a decision may impact the work of those operationalizing it.

  2. Open-Minded and Listens to Feedback: Recognizes that everyone, regardless of position, has valuable insights to offer. Also demonstrates a willingness to learn and to grow.

  3. Empowers Others: Provides the opportunity for team members to be a part of the solution and the success of the team by pulling them into discussions that will impact the team's performance, engagement, or overall satisfaction.

  4. Approachability: Team members feel comfortable and confident to seek out the opinion or insights of the leader; as the leader values the opinion of others, so will the others value the opinion of the leader.

  5. Accountability: Readily accept responsibility for the collective decisions and mistakes of the team, regardless of personal opinion or contribution.

  6. Expresses Gratitude: Recognizes and appreciates the hard work and effort that has been given by their team members, regardless of how directly or indirectly they have contributed to the overall team achievements.

The contrast between arrogance and humility in leadership styles represents the two ends of a paradigm. The most effective level of leadership finds the location in this paradigm where the situation warrants the greatest strength, whether heavier in humility, or heavier in arrogance. As it relates to a team's functional dynamic, the following can help gauge which end of the paradigm will create the greatest response:

  • Team Morale: Arrogance can lead to low team morale, while humility often fosters a positive and motivated work environment.

  • Innovation: Humble leaders are more likely to encourage innovation, while arrogant leaders may stifle creative thinking and collaboration.

  • Trust and Loyalty: Humble leaders build trust and loyalty within their teams, while arrogance erodes trust and can lead to high turnover.

  • Organizational Culture: Humility contributes to a culture of openness, learning, and adaptability, whereas arrogance can create a toxic culture of fear and compliance.

  • Crisis or Urgency: Situations requiring quick decision-making and a strong, assertive direction, may be better managed by an arrogant leader who might be better equipped to take more unique risks and mobilize the team promptly.

The paradigm of humble and arrogant leadership represents the range of perspectives and approaches by which a leader chooses to act or exert authority. This underscores the implication that the leader's attitude is a choice, and thereby any consequential team attitude is driven by the choice of the leader. Effective leaders aim to strike a balance, leveraging their confidence to make decisions while recognizing the value of humility in fostering trust, collaboration, and growth within their organization. In understanding the differences between arrogance and humility, leaders can make conscious choices that benefit their team, their organization, and their own personal growth.

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