10 Ways to Recognize Our Arrogance

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.


  • I will place this in my prayer journal… for review and repentance often. Thank you.

  • Chris says:

    Ouch! True for pastors and presidents alike.

  • Leland says:

    Dr. Lawless, I have prayed for you as requested. I would ask that you do the same for me. Relationships cannot be maintained by arrogance, and ministries fail when relationships fail. Thanks for the post. I am saving it for future reference.

  • Tommy Kiker says:

    I had a battle with arrogance reading your article, because I kept thinking of others who needed to read it. Painful, but necessary reading.

  • Steve Dwire says:

    #8 makes absorbing articles like this difficult. It’s not easy to read this objectively and let even this list speak into my life because I want to believe I have this humility thing down. Thanks for sharing these markers.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      I understand, Steve. I almost didn’t write this post because it would be easier to ignore the issue in my own life.

  • Michael Edwards says:

    Whew, I started reading this and thought you and I must have met before I became a Christ-followers…Qualities in top 10 here I really dislike. Thanks for being real and naming all 10. I still struggle; I just can’t go back there!

  • Patrick says:

    I had a very simple situation this week reveal arrogance in my pastoral ministry. Today I have been thanking The Lord for it. The Gospel is never cause for arrogance. Thank you Dr. Lawless.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Ministry has a way of humbling us, doesn’t it, Patrick? That’s one reason I believe every seminary student should be required to spend more time actually doing ministry under a mentor. Thanks for the honesty.

  • Derek Wilson says:

    I have seen each area in my life and pray daily to conquer them. Excellent but convicting word!

  • Slim says:

    I have been kinda hard on some of the guests in one of the other blogs on this site…as best as I know lovingly and humbly…but forthright and direct.

    I read this and was challenged to always, always, always guard against the very real tendency to arrogance. I can see myself so clearly in this list.

    I will edit it a little, only for brevity and print it for a page marker in my appointment note book to be seen often and contemplated.

    • Chuck Lawless says:

      Blessings, Slim. Your honesty has reminded me of another important truth: the line between being lovingly honest and sinfully arrogant is very fine indeed. I need someone to help me see that line sometimes. Thanks for the insight.

  • Selma Wilson says:

    A great reminder for all of us. Thank you. I plan to share with the leaders on my team. It is so easy for us to slip into arrogance and pride. I will make this one to read regularly.

  • Kim says:

    Thanks so much for this article…as I read it ….I thought to myself…”ouch”….There’s more than a few of these that describe me….I need to change some things..some attitudes…grateful for teaching that motivates us to grow to be more like Him. Blessings…

  • Mark says:

    May I add 2 to this list?

    11. You berate people who disagree with you.
    If you only want people to agree with you, then you are just a dictator.

    12. You only select people who think like you to be fellow deacons/elders etc.
    This basically creates group think when can and likely will sink any organization that gets a case of it.

  • I took the liberty of translating your post into Spanish. I know it will be a blessing to many. Thank you Dr. Lawless for your honesty in this article, we all struggle with pride in some level:

    Por Chuck Lawless

    Estoy escribiendo este post para mí tanto como para cualquier persona. En los últimos meses, he vuelto a leer el libro de Jim Collins “¿Cómo cae el Poderoso” y “Descarrilado” por Tim Irwin. Ambos estudios revisan el proceso de caida de los líderes y las organizaciones, sobre todo en los líderes que quizás una vez se creían invencibles.

    Estos estudios me desafian a mi porque sé que soy orgulloso. También sé que “Al orgullo le sigue la destrucción;
 a la altanería, el fracaso.(Proverbios 16:18, NVI). En mi caso, utilizo estos marcadores de la arrogancia para evitar tal caída.

    Marcador # 1 : Usted cree que pocas personas son tan inteligentes como usted.

    No hay mucha gente que realmente usen estas palabras, pero los líderes honestos deben admitir que a veces piensan de esta manera. Algunos revelan esta forma de pensar por su burla que de nadie mas ” está a mi nivel.” Otros asumen que deben formar parte de casi todas las discusiones, sin importar el tema. Si usted asume pocas personas le puede enseñar algo, esa suposicion debería causar que usted evalue su corazón.

    Marcador # 2 : Su primera reacción a lo negativo es ponerse a la defensiva o echar la culpa a otros .

    Si se sucede algo negativo (por ejemplo , la falta de crecimiento de la organización , un equipo de liderazgo dividido, un programa que falló) siempre es culpa de alguien más, es posible que se vea a sí mismo por encima de tales fallas. En las palabras de Jim Collins, usted puede ser parte del grupo de líderes caidos, que minimizan los hechos negativos y “culpan a factores externos por los reveses en lugar de aceptar la responsabilidad.”

    Marcador # 3 : Los títulos son importantes para usted.

    Revise la firma en su correo electrónico. Mira el membrete y el sitio web de su empresa. Lea la biografía que envia a otros que lo han invitado a hablar. Tenga en cuenta su reacción cuando alguien le presenta sin señalar su título. Piense en cómo se presenta. Si el título se ha convertido en su nombre, es que ha cruzado la línea.

    Marcador # 4 : Usted asume su organización no puede fallar.

    El resultado final para usted es la siguiente: la organización no puede fallar porque usted no falla . Usted es lo suficientemente inteligente como para econtrar las soluciones. Su historial está tan lleno de éxitos que el fracaso es inimaginable. Y aunque su organización luche usted puede simplemente reemplazar a sus compañeros de trabajo; después de todo, usted está convencido de que encontrar personas que quieren trabajar para usted no será difícil .

    Marcador # 5 : Le molesta no saber ” información privilegiada.”

    La arrogancia se caracteriza no sólo por la creencia de que sabe casi todo, pero también por el deseo de conocer el “secreto privilegiado” antes que los demás. Creemos que las personas más importantes, merecen tener los detalles primero. Si se siente frustrado cuando no estás en el círculo íntimo de la información, puede que este luchando con arrogancia.

    Marcador # 6 : Se ha desconectado de sus miembros del equipo.

    El desarrollo de relaciones genuinas con los empleados es difícil a medida que una organización crece . Sin embargo, si usted ve a sus miembros de los equipos más como engranajes de un sistema que como socios valiosos – o, peor aún , si ellos perciben que usted los ve de esa manera – usted puede estar operando con altivez igual que “una máquina de vapor intentando jalar el resto del trensin estar unido a él.”

    Marcador # 7 : Las disciplinas espirituales son secundarios , si es que inexistente, en su vida.

    Disciplinas como el estudio de la Biblia , la oración y el ayuno son más que simples prácticas cristianas; son acciones obedientes de personas que reconocen su necesidad de una fuerte relación con Dios. Si usted está dirigiendo externamente sin pasar tiempo con Dios en privado, usted esta liderando en su propia fuerza. Eso es pecado.

    Marcador # 8 : Nadie tiene permiso para decirle la verdad en su vida.

    Los líderes que caen a menudo no son responsables ante nadie. Pocas personas son plenamente conscientes de sí mismos, y todos nosotros luchamos con un corazón que es más engañoso que cualquier otra cosa ( Jer. 17:09 ) . La retroalimentación es fundamental , sobre todo de aquellos que pueden probar si estamos exhibiendo el fruto de la carne o el fruto del Espíritu (Gálatas 5:16-26 ). Si nadie juega este papel en su vida, de su falta de rendición de cuentas es la probable evidencia de orgullo.

    Marcador # 9 : Otras personas te ven como arrogante.

    Tome el riesgo de pedirle a los demás que le digan lo que realmente piensan de usted. Hable con las personas que dependen de usted. Entreviste a los que antes trabajaron con usted, pero luego tomaron otras posiciones. Sea específico en preguntar: ” ¿Alguna vez me veo arrogante? ” Incluso las respuestas más emocionales (y tal vez exageradas ) probablemente revelan cierto grado de verdad. Escúchelos.

    Marcador # 10 : Este post le molesta. . . o no le molesta .

    Si estas palabras le molestan , es posible que se haya encontrado cara a cara con la realidad en su vida. Si no le molestan, puede estar fallando en ver la arrogancia que nos caracteriza a todos nosotros.

    Mi propia arrogancia me atormenta mientras escribo estas palabras. Por favor oren por mí.

  • Jim says:

    Excellent evaluation and humble posting because it is ouch no matter who you are. As you mentioned it is difficult as leaders to keep those relationships strong, but no matter how large or small, if we carry an air of humility, it will be a soothing oil when strain comes. But, arrogance will always gum up the works. Ouch. Hosea 14:9

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