“Arrogance” in the Workplace

“We are living in the age of arrogance”

Stanley B. Silverman says he was intrigued with the idea of measuring the level of arrogance in the workplace.  Silverman, Russell E. Johnson and several Colleagues came up with the 22 item WARS scale to define these behaviors and the result is both fascinating and confirmation of what many of us have always suspected. The higher the level of arrogance the lower the level of performance, self-esteem and humility. At the core of the arrogant boss is the idea that they need to make sure that “their candle burns brighter” than anyone else by making “everyone else’s look smaller.” In a real life replay of the emperor’s new clothes, messengers are destroyed if they don’t tell these bosses what they want to hear – even if it actually destroys the business.

The age of arrogance is clearly illustrated by one former leader at American International Group (AIG), Joe Cassano. Cassano was the president of AIG’s financial products unit and is credited by some as single-handedly bringing about the downfall of AIG (Ahrens, 2008). Many accounts describe Cassano as a quintessential arrogant leader. Former coworkers report that in stark contrast to his predecessors, Cassano had penchants for yelling, cursing, bad-mouthing others, and belittling colleagues, as well as little tolerance for opposing viewpoints. He has also been described as having had an obsession with profits, particularly as they related to the lucrative credit-default swap contracts that eventually brought the entire company down (Dennis, 2010; Taibbi, 2009). In the absence of Cassano’s persistent arrogant behavior (and unwillingness to tolerate dissent regarding his management practices), it is possible that AIG’s crisis would have been considerably less severe or altogether avoided. However, despite the fact that it was the practices he sanctioned that led AIG to be regarded as one of the most notable examples of excess associated with Wall Street, Cassano remains unapologetic about his role and blames others for the crisis (Nasiripour, 2010). [Arrogance: A Formula for Leadership Failure]

Incompetent and Unaware

Silverman says he focused on behavior rather than personality and that this will allow employers to use performance reviews as a way to show a boss what actions they need to change.  Without feedback, he argues, arrogant bosses are never going to recognize the need to modify their behavior.    

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