I’m writing this post for me as much as for anyone. In the past months, I’ve re-read Jim Collins’ How the Mighty Fall and Tim Irwin’s Derailed. Both of these gripping studies review the process of decline in leaders and organizations, especially in leaders who perhaps once thought themselves invincible.
These studies challenge me because I know I’m prideful. I also know that “Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall” (Prov. 16:18, HCSB). With me, use these potential markers of arrogance to avoid such a fall.
Marker #1: You believe few people are as smart as you are.
Not many people actually say these words, but honest leaders must admit they sometimes think this way. Some reveal this thinking by their ridicule of anybody else “not quite up to my level.” Others assume they should be part of almost every discussion, regardless of the topic. If you assume few people can teach you anything, that assumption should cause you to evaluate your heart.
Marker #2: Your first reaction to negative is to be defensive or to cast blame on others.
If anything adverse (e.g., a lack of growth in the organization, a divided leadership team, a failed program) is always somebody else’s fault, you might see yourself as above such declines. In Jim Collins’ words, you may join falling leaders who explain away negative data and “blame external factors for setbacks rather than accept responsibility.”[i]
Marker #3: Titles matter to you.
Check your signature line on your email. Look at your company’s letterhead and website. Read the bio you send to others who have invited you to speak. Consider your reaction when someone introduces you without noting your title. Think about how you introduce yourself. If your title has become your first name, you’ve crossed the line.
Marker #4: You assume your organization cannot fail.
The bottom line for you is this: your organization cannot fail because you don’t fail. You are intelligent enough to figure out the solutions. Your track record is so filled with successes that failure is unimaginable. And, even if your organization struggles, you can simply replace your co-workers; after all, you are convinced that finding people who want to work for you will not be difficult.
Marker #5: Not knowing “insider information” bothers you.
Arrogance is characterized not only by a belief we know almost everything, but also by a desire to know the “scoop” before others do. The most important people, we think, deserve to have the details first. If you get frustrated when you’re not in the information’s inner circle, you may well be dealing with arrogance.
Marker #6: You are disconnected from your team members.
Developing genuine relationships with employees is difficult as an organization grows. If, however, you see your team members more as cogs in a system than as valuable partners – or worse yet, if they perceive you view them that way – you may be haughtily operating as “a steam engine attempting to pull the rest of the train without being attached to it.”[ii]
Marker #7: Spiritual disciplines are secondary, if not non-existent, in your life.
Disciplines like Bible study, prayer, and fasting are more than simple Christian practices; they are obedient actions of persons who recognize their need for a strong relationship with God. If you are leading externally without spending time with God privately, you are leading in your own strength. That’s sin.
Marker #8: No one has permission to speak truth into your life.
Leaders who fall are often not accountable to anyone. Few of us are fully self-aware, and all of us deal with a heart that is “more deceitful than anything else” (Jer. 17:9). Feedback is critical, particularly from those who can test whether we exhibit the fruit of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:16-26). If no one plays this role in your life, your lack of accountability is likely evidence of pride.
Marker #9: Other people see you as arrogant.
Take a risk – ask others what they really think about you. Talk to the people who report to you. Interview those who formerly worked with you, but then took other positions. Be specific in asking, “Do I ever come across as arrogant?” Even the most emotional (and perhaps exaggerated) responses likely reveal some level of truth. Hear it.
Marker #10: This post bothers you . . . or doesn’t bother you.
If these words bother you, you may be coming face-to-face with reality in your life. If they don’t bother you, you may be failing to see the arrogance that characterizes all of us.
My own arrogance haunts me as I write these words. Please pray for me.
[i] Jim Collins (2011-09-06). How the Mighty Fall: And Why Some Companies Never Give In (Kindle Locations 326-327). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Tim Irwin (2009-10-29). Derailed: Five Lessons Learned from Catastrophic Failures of Leadership (NelsonFree) (p. 65). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.