10 Ways to Recognize Our Arrogance

I’m writing this post for me as much as for anyone. Some years ago, I re-read Jim Collins’ How the Mighty Fall and Tim Irwin’s Derailed. Both of these gripping studies review decline in leaders and organizations, especially in leaders who perhaps once thought themselves invincible. Using these potential markers of arrogance help me to evaluate my own life.

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. 

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. 

Marker #3: Titles matter to you. 

I realize folks work really hard to earn titles – but, 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. Your track record is so filled with successes that failure is unimaginable. 

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. 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. 

If 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. 

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. 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. 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.

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