The above statement may make you shrug your shoulders, as you think I’ve grasped something so obvious.
I had a conversation with a client today who relayed multiple stories of leaders who continued to rely on the faulty data roaming around in their heads. It was clear to him that much was missing and much could go wrong on multiple projects. As I’m sure you can imagine, big plans and tight deadlines were the drivers.
I asked him whether these leaders lived inside their own heads. I proceeded to explain why our own thought processes can deceive us. I pointed out that our thought processes have a tendency to be reliant on self and past accomplishments. You’ve experienced this before. A smart person who has been told how smart they are, with success to show for it, typically is not accepting of contrary opinion or advice. Who needs it when you’ve pretty much figured out the riddle of life and work.
People from all walks of life are interesting in how they apply thoughtful analysis, or critical thinking. My coaching client saw an example at work of how very smart people can fall into the trap of leaning on their own mental capabilities. Much of it is a pick and choose proposition. What if you were told by their doctor to come back annually for a test, you’d say of course they will make the appointment without missing a beat. Isn’t it ironic how you can rationalize not doing it. Recognize these sentences:
“I have to complete this project, and then I will…”
“I feel great and I’m not in any pain.”
“I don’t think it’s as serious as he told me it was.”
It really is arrogance-covert or overt. Arrogant people often have the biggest blind sides. Once again, relying only on information that fits what’s in their head. It took me years to turn around on this front.
This post is about arrogance. Arrogance can be very ugly, but it also can be attractive. I see it as a shape shifter in many ways.
In looking at the 5 Levels of Arrogance (professional, personal, etc.), one thing is clear:
Arrogance is rooted in deep insecurities.
My views are experiential. Your experiences may differ and could come from angle more vast. Regardless, arrogance is a killer. Anyone living in America would have to agree that arrogance is doing just that.
Here’s my experience with the 5 Levels of Arrogance:
Childhood-In the earliest level of arrogance, it literally is a childlike thing. A boy or girl is full of energy and opinions. In many ways it’s a calling out to the world. It’s a demand, a protest, a fight to get what is wanted. There is no other way. I guess that’s why we need parents to cool us down, help us realize that regardless of how we feel, the world does not set a course based on our whims.
Adolescence-I consider this the age of overreach. The time where things are coming to together mentally, such that you feel no one can tell you anything. You haven’t experienced much, but you’ve read about it or seen it on the screen. You have little patience and admitting your lack of understanding is out of the question. I found this to be a time of proving and openness to what would lie ahead. Funny, how dangerous this time was. The cement begins to be applied.
Youth-I define this period as the time you move into adulthood. There can be no doubt that adulthood is where arrogance settles in. The dye is not cast at this point, but roots are certainly formed. Adulthood reveals much about a person. The audience has seen you long enough to form an opinion, create opposition or applaud loudly for what you accomplish. In my case, I had something to prove (perfect son who could do anything). For others, it could be a defining defeat back in adolescence or a bad relationship with a parent in childhood. As I mentioned before, insecurities drive arrogance. Youth is the stage for bringing that out.
Mid-Life-This is the level where I was saved/had my uprooting. One of the most defining times, and one of the most painful. As it should be. I got humbled by circumstances and my relationships. Some were expected, some were not. Mid-life is full of crossroads. The crossroads found here range all areas of life. The decision to let the dye cast (I am who I am), willingness to change, choices for the time remaining, all confront in mid-life. No surprise to you, that the term mid-life crisis originates here. I believe this stage is where arrogance becomes fully displayed and rooted.
Legacy-Coming to an end always stirs something in us. Whether it’s saying goodbye (even though that happens throughout life) or wrestling with regret, typically there is pause for everyone. At the legacy stage, if arrogance has never been dealt with, regret and ugliness will reign. I’m not a person who believes that it’s impossible to change, I am a realist who knows danger. If arrogance is allowed to remain unaltered, it will be very difficult to turn around.
I was 40 when God uprooted my arrogance. It was one of the best things to ever happen to me. My hope for you is that you find the exit ramp-by force or thoughtful decision.
The shift from arrogance to humility should not be a take it or leave it process. Far too often, the two opposing mindsets have been relegated to personality test outcomes or to individual behaviors. We all know the two have far reaching impact on multiple areas of life. Like the following:
Performance (business and personal
Most businesses (large and small) are afraid to tackle arrogance and humility. The pendulum either swings to enablement of the arrogant, or swings to not feeling comfortable with the “touchy, feely” of humility. When an organization refuses to deal, they run to distractions. Typically, meetings and over-thinking financial performance are du jour.
I am a man who has gone (still going) through the shift from arrogance to humility. I’ve grappled with regret, sadness, embarrassment, and more regarding this. It’s very hard work and the sooner you do it the better. I’ve even had the 3 AM visits, from above, reminding me of things I thought were buried and unknown to others. Maybe you have too.
I decided awhile ago to allow God to change me so that I can be like the sun, not gray and overcast. I couldn’t change myself. Arrogance, like humility, begins with a seed, moves to the roots, and then evidence in the form of a plant. Seeing a field of plants was too daunting and intimidating to change. Besides, even with the self-loathing, I also built a place of comfort, It was something I knew how to be. This quote from Jony Ive reveals how subtle this battle can be:
“I remember talking to Steve Jobs and asked why he was perceived as harsh. And I said couldn’t we be more moderate? And he said why? And I said, because I care about the team. And he said: “No Jony, you’re just really vain. You just want people to like you. I’m surprised at you, because I thought you really held the work up as the most important and not how you are perceived by people. People misunderstand Steve because he was so focused.”
Remember, there’s a lot on the line here. I’m choosing to shift. How about you?
Arrogance produces blind spots. Think of the farmer here, he/she plants the seed, and in the not so distant future there is a crop. The only difference is blind spots are nearly invisible to the human being possessing arrogance.
This is one dangerous game.
Often those who are arrogant pride themselves in having much figured out. There’s no room for not being right. To be wrong is to be less than. Each interaction is fueled by this drive, not to mention the deep insecurities that plagues.
I am a former member of the above tribe. I endeavor everyday to see things as they really are, even if I can’t figure it all out. Some days are misses, and somedays I live out the truth. No matter the outcomes, I know I can’t allow the seed of arrogance to take root. If I don’t stay committed, the blind spots will look like this:
I will believe that I have a right to justice. Not the justice from a civic point of view, but from a human relationship perspective
I will believe that I am untouchable, even though rationally I know this can never be
I will believe my possessions, accomplishments and titles are validations of my point of view
I will believe people are a means to an end
I will awaken one day and find I am truly alone, and no remedy will be near.
I've made the point before, but everyone is an artist and everyone has an art. This post is about two views of art. One is rooted in arrogance and the other humility.
I find it strange and sobering when I encounter an artist who is arrogant. I can say this because of the days of my own arrogance. Not to mention, my current struggles with the subtleties of arrogance. My struggles are rooted in the arrogance of my own knowledge (often torn down when I learn something new) and the age-old practice of not slowing down. The beauty of this struggle is in not surrendering and to be found fighting.
The big take away for the arrogance view is that it prostitutes the glories of art. When an artist begins to take credit, look down-upon or just ignores, there is a serious problem. If truth be told the artist is very insecure and can't handle the beauty in their hands. Crazier still, the artist usually has someone in their lives to keep things real. Man, is that like a glass of cold water on a hot summer's day. But often the artist will banish those folks, out of fear, the fear of being exposed.
The view of humility is rooted in hope. I know it is for me. A hope that I can become what is pure and lovely. That all my mistakes don't make it too late. That if I embrace humility, I will be given a second chance to create something beautiful. Maybe a few chances, if I just remember the gift and remember what I could have turned into.
Yes, it is difficult to have and hold the view of art that is humility. It surely means you'll cry, your heart will break and the world will laugh at you. Most of the truly great artists have experienced this, often in anonymity. Humility is the surest path to art that will make you happy and make you alive. Anything less, is akin to sleep walking or living-death.