Money Matters

The arrogance epidemic

By Sirajuddin Aziz
Mon, 04, 24

Is arrogance an attitude? A signature style. A class act. A self decorated attribute. An acquired privilege. A feeling of no one else is better than me.

The arrogance epidemic

Is arrogance an attitude? A signature style. A class act. A self decorated attribute. An acquired privilege. A feeling of no one else is better than me.

An inborn trait, with apologies to Mother Nature. What exactly is, therefore, arrogance? What is it that entitles individuals to think they are beyond reproach or even beyond accountability? Or, is arrogance, ‘the zenith of human stupidity’.

Perhaps, yes.

Arrogance, if looked upon with a microscopic lens, is an insignia of those who are weak and who are essentially cowards. Narcissistic behavioural patterns indicate the presence, growth and development of arrogance in individuals. Narcissism is an affliction of delusional thinking, it is akin to the Cat staring into a pool of still waters at its own reflection and feels scared to find a ferocious lion staring back --- When it is considered to be true( which it is not) , that’s when the stage is set up, towards the growth of the arrogant beanstalk tree.

Ego is an eternal enemy of humility, and a perennial friend of arrogance. Once placed in a position of authority, the individual/manager begins to journey upon a path of delusional thinking … “I am the best”, is the first slogan, he/she chants, represented by misdemeanours of various types and formats. Ego is the staple diet of the arrogant. The greater attention and recognition accorded to Ego ensures a highly arrogant output. Arrogance manifests itself in several formats and dimensions; it can emerge in speech, in silence, the way we dress, the language we use, the tonality of voice, the way we walk, the manners of gesticulations, the narrowing of space between the brows, the vehicle we use, etc; the list can be endless.

I am using the nomenclature of manager in this piece with an intent for it to be inclusive of any type of supervisors, directors, executives, board members, CEO or even the hands-on owner. These anonymously beautifully crafted words, truly describe how arrogant behaviour and attitude is a choice we exercise, and that too, with full knowledge and awareness of its pitfalls ... “Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have no reason to change”. It follows that arrogance with talent is bearable, but being hypocritical is even more deadly.

Arrogant managers are miserly in handing out appreciation. They feel doing so lowers their strata, if they acknowledge the good performance of others. For the gratitude and its expression lies in the land’s distant. They do not embrace the ability to appreciate. Feeling thankful to colleagues makes them feel bad. Camaraderie and togetherness of teams is an anathema for such. Equality is openly abhorred. The best cannot bend is their mantra.

By these types the environment is deliberately made to remain tense and toxic. Colleagues live in constant fear of attacks and reprisals, that invariably include words of indecent import. The vocals are mostly like the spewing of fire from the mouth of the seven headed dragon . I have seen colleagues being referred to as “Pig and Pigheaded”; “You are an incorrigible stupid”; “Your brain is stunted”; “Why does your face reminds me of Mr. Pumblechook” (Dickens almost comical character in Great Expectations) or even the indulgence of extreme usage of expletives of the below the belt types, in complete violation of corporate decency.

Their playbook says and exhorts them to put to full use, (read abuse) their tongue lashing abilities. Some supervisors, I witnessed, who would not shy to use choicest expletives, without knowledge to their own selves … like it is a regular part of their everyday lingua; when confronted whether the foul word was used for the person or the issue, they usually respond with “Did I really use or say so?”.

Managers in possession of arrogance, obviously fail miserably to motivate staff towards better and enhanced productivity, which is the primary responsibility of the senior management positions; instead they end up demoralising, dehumanising and degrading, in private and in public, with no cause or otherwise too. The display of arrogant traits and habits is usually also done to mask personal inadequacies and in the process, a vulgar attempt is made to prove possession of better skills, competence … Basically the intention is to prove being superior to others.

The arrogant attitude of a manager is not a consequence of merely lack of intellect, it is an unqualified admission of lack of emotions, empathy, sentiments, values, creed, and in several cases, it is a reflection of poor upbringing. Arrogant leaders need no enemies. They serve themselves very well. Readers would find in their organisations the presence of several supervisors who have their personal interest and agenda closer to their hearts than the objectives of the company. They are found lurking around all projects, that are destined for success, not as a result of their input, but by the virtue of creativity of others, this is done to take full honours for the accomplishment.

Arrogance in addition to being a self inflicting disease has ramifications upon the general morale of the workforce. Colleagues are made to look like timid pygmies, while the manager does everything to put on display his/her camouflaged magnified presence upon the entity.

Managers who fail to credit others end up discrediting their own selves. They know it is not due to them or at least pretend not to know. Their attitude is more of a chameleon … they change colours, either to shine out to mask their inadequacies or to hide themselves.

Humble managers never shirk to deliver successful ventures to the hard work of colleagues, instead of lodging personal acclaim for it. Managers must remember to be unselfish. Selflessness must find expression through recognition of the efforts of others; trumpeting one’s own brilliance or initiative is a short lived moment. Ronald Reagan is slated to have remarked, “There is no limit to what a man can accomplish if he doesn’t care who gets the credit”. Managers who fail this litmus test of the much desired supervisory behaviour end up as ‘corporate monsters’.

Arrogant managers/leaders love bullying people. They dominate by virtue of their hierarchical position. It gives them a false belief that with corporate position comes the liberty to insult people. In human history, it is the collective weakness of the many that contributes to the development of the few arrogant individuals. The edifice of arrogance can be made to crumble easily, only if those suffering under this yoke develop the courage to challenge misuse of authority … This is not to suggest a corporate rebellion; what needs to be appreciated here, is that no de-jure or de-facto position, entitles the individual to indulge in insulting others … if they do it, it must be repudiated with challenges. I adore this quote of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, where he says, “a person is insulted only up to the extent he or she permits”. Indeed, staff succumbs to corporate bullies with silence, hence sanction and issue licence for comprehensive misbehaviour, by the tyrant manager. I know one such breed. They are real. They exist.

Arrogance seeks affirmation, hence most that an afflicted with the malaise boast through sensitive microphones, that enhance the decibel level of pronouncement of arrogance.

Arrogant managers/leaders suffer from inflationary tendencies in respect of their skills, talent and abilities. They think they are good, nay the best. But they are not. In fact, they refuse to entertain and accept. Predominance of ignorance about one’s own strengths and weaknesses is the prelude to the development of stark arrogance. Whilst the environment may have a very poor estimation of the skill set of the leader; the leader however may look at him/herself, as the pinnacle of talent. (I extend apologies if a lot of political leaders’ faces are flashing across your mind).

The smoke screen of ignorance prevents a truer estimation of one’s abilities. Most management scientists conclude that arrogance is ignorance. “I know, that I do not know”, is the first dictum on the road that leads us towards humility. Ignorance is a lack of knowledge of both oneself and the environment, while arrogance is misplaced confidence about oneself. “There’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance ... .it’s called Humility”. Confidence smiles. Arrogance smirks. (unknown). The humble rarely stumble. The arrogant trips often.

We, as managers, have to acquire maturity that will prevent us from making comments on everything that crosses our eyes and attention. “If you can’t be kind, be quiet” is a good proverb to remember.

Is arrogance, as a disease of mind, correctable? This question I ask to myself often? I believe, there is within all of us, two dwellers, unseen to the world, one is a ferocious wolf and the other, is a docile lamb. They co-exist as distant neighbours, with each having an ambition to over power the other. The wolf is in constant quest to devour the lamb; Andy the weak and timid lamb, is continually fighting and thwarting these assaults. The wolf is the ego, which grows into arrogance. The wolf can be weakened and defanged; the lamb can be strengthened and made brave. This is dependent upon, who do we in our everyday life, during everyday chores and responsibilities, feed the most, by our thoughts and behaviour. The predominance of arrogant attributes like being aggressive, uncouth, insecure and displaying a character laced with general unwillingness to respect others point of view, etc is the fodder, we oversupply to the innate wolf. This obviously makes its teeth and claws acquire greater sharpness in their bite.

Humility and its attending features like strong respect generally to all colleagues; disdain to protocols, lending genuine listening ears to ideas, collaborative attitudes, turning competition to cooperation, are some of the traits in the personality that go towards fattening the lamb, within us. The horns of humility grow with positive attitude and behaviour.

There is a study/research developed by the University of Akron & Michigan, that heralds the ability to measure and scale “arrogance” in people and organisations. It is nomenclature as “The Workplace Arrogance Scale” or WARS, for short. It identifies and defines the tell tale signs of arrogance present and of the simmering and developing of its related attitudes and behaviour.

Power begets arrogance. The misuse of it follows. It begins to manifest itself through nepotism,favouritism, denial of growth to productive units, reprisals for counter suggestions/recommendations to those of the leader, including holding back of increments, promotions and bonuses.

The disease of arrogance of the human mind is rarely benign. It is always deadly but not totally incurable. To rid of it requires solid determination of acknowledgement that firstly it is an existing affliction and secondly, it would call to quell the characteristics that denote arrogance. Arrogance, generally, is unknown to those who are in bed with it.

A test of a humble manager lies in the manner he/she treats those who may have mistreated or mishandled them. Humility is the stumbling block to the growth of the propensity to become arrogant. Success in any endeavour must not allow for losing one’s way. Masking arrogance to look good is expedient duplicity. Those who exhibit for public consumption their intolerance to arrogance are essentially the most arrogant. Arrogance for merit is justified, particularly, if it is rare; but even this conferment is with limitations. Arrogance without due merit is repulsive and narcissistic. There is a Chinese saying , coined by a sage, that reads, “pretend and encourage his arrogance”. “Arrogance, ignorance and incompetence … is not a pretty cocktail … in fact it is lethal, when present in a leader” ( Grayson Carter).

The writer is a senior banker and a freelance columnist