They are the Yin and Yang of Leaders People Want to Follow. Or Not.
If you ask just about anyone about the kinds of qualities that every great leader possesses, it’s certain that someone will say: “confidence.” This makes sense as we’re all inspired by people who exude confidence. They make us feel like all things are possible. It’s a kind of infectious energy that’s impossible to resist.
The catch is that there is actually a fine line for leaders to walk between projecting confidence-and arrogance. Unlike confident leadership, which everyone wants to follow, no one wants to work for an arrogant leader who, instead of projecting positive energy, drags everyone down around them. That presents a kind of yin-and-yang balancing act for leaders to navigate. In some ways, arrogance is the evil twin of confidence.
We certainly want to avoid turning to the dark side, but how do we avoid it as a leader? It turns out there are four factors that separate a confident leader from an arrogant one.
Being invulnerable is great if you’re Superman, but it’s terrible if you’re a leader. What I mean is that if you’re never wrong – and you let your people know that through verbal and physical cues – they’ll turn off. No one will engage or speak up if the leader can do no wrong. A great leader, on the other hand, will say something to their people like: “I make lots of mistakes, so pay attention, I need lots of help!” By saying that, they imply that they, too, are human and capable of erring. That then gives people the license to open up and be more direct with the leader since they have already admitted fallibility.
Similar to the willingness to open oneself up to making mistakes, a leader cannot be arrogant enough to think that they are better than everyone around them. That only you have all the answers. If you think that every idea you have is the best one, and you also fail to ask for ideas from anyone on your team, you’ve crossed the line from confidence into arrogance. People, especially these days, respond far better to humble leaders than to arrogant ones.
As a leader, you need to watch the kind of words and language you use in interacting with your team. Rather than using pronouns like “I” or “me” when you write emails or give speeches, use “we” or “us” instead. By doing that, you’re being more inclusive of your team and making it clear that you’re not acting alone. An arrogant leader, on the other hand, makes everything about themselves – which again sends the wrong message. If you want to bring people along with you on your journey to build a business, make it clear you value their contributions with the language you use in talking to them. I have to admit, I’ve written e-mails and have been shocked at how often I used “I” and I had to quickly rewrite them to be more inclusive.
I have written before that transparency has become a superpower for leaders. The new generation of workers not only expects leaders to share things with them – they demand it. Things that used to happen behind closed doors now need to happen in the open; nothing should be hidden. And leaders need to be comfortable with this new dynamic.
While it can be scary to think about, my rule has always been to make decisions as if my rationale would be printed on the front page of the newspaper – or the most popular social media site – the next day. In other words, if I would be embarrassed if someone found out why I decided something or couldn’t justify it, then I was probably making the wrong decision. Similarly, if you have people inside your organization that are compensated in a way that others might be upset at if they found out, it might be time to make some adjustments. Eventually, everything comes out.
It’s important to remember that there is a fine line as a leader between projecting confidence and arrogance. But if you remember to keep these four factors in mind: vulnerability, humility, we-versus-me, and transparency, you’ll be well on your way to inspiring your team to achieve greatness.