From Arrogance to Servant Leadership
How overconfidence often alienates leaders
Arrogance can be a dangerous trait. It can blind one to unintended consequences and put many at risk. And it’s not a characteristic reserved only for individuals; organizations are fully capable of behaving arrogantly, as well. Pushback and failures can serve as wake-up calls; seeing our reflections through the eyes of others can do the same. Not all of us feel obliged to reshape our leadership style when confronted with such circumstances, but for those of us that do, the journey is humbling.
My arrogance began as a shield for insecurity and wasn’t tested until I was president of a manufacturing company. In that role, I visited a potential Midwestern-based supplier, a subsidiary of a Fortune 500, at their invitation. At the time, our company was in great shape and we had a long-term contract with our major customer. I had little interest in visiting this supplier—and it showed. On the plant tour, I was critical of the operations; in the conference room, I insinuated our hosts may be copying some of our IP; and, at dinner, I was caustic. Finally, in the middle of the meal, the president of our host stood up, threw his napkin on the table, said, “I can’t take this any more,” and walked out. The next morning, with little conversation, our hosts drove us to the airport. I had been railroaded out of town, and I owned the result. I was humbled.
Here’s another example of arrogance in action: A client of mine had manufactured a family of parts for a Fortune 500 company since the parts were first designed. The client always performed—excellent quality and on-time delivery. Periodically, but not annually, the client would raise prices modestly to help cover increases in material and labor costs not regained through efficiencies. The time came when the customer said they would not accept a price increase and in fact demanded a reduction of 7 percent the first year and 2 percent per year after that. With respect, my client declined and the customer insisted they send in a team of engineers to show my client how the cost reductions could be accomplished. With quiet confidence, my client declined the offer and the customer moved to another supplier. Six months later, the customer returned, accepted the last price increase offered and shifted the business back.
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