As an employer, do you prefer an arrogant high performer or a mediocre employee? If there is a toxic high-potential employee, you must look at ways to deal and resolve the situation. You must ask if, as an employer, you prefer dealing with an arrogant high performer or surviving with a mediocre employee.
What’s the cost of arrogance?
Arrogance is a subjective assessment, of course, but as with other such assessments, it is observed as a behavior.
On one hand, there is an arrogance that arises from the environment and seems to relate to maturity. For, example, the internet and the universal access to information has a real downside in that everyone knows a little about everything.
They sometimes confuse that with intelligence and ability. But, if willing, they can redirect that energy as having some content worth rescue.
On the other hand, there is a more toxic arrogance. When you work with or for people who feel threatened by competing with ideas or plans, they will push back and down to demean and diminish. In some, it is related to narcissism and can be a life-damaging behavior for them and their relationships.
Costly behaviors in a work environment.
If all arrogant people are not insidious in intent, you must look at what’s doable and not, what’s worth fixing and not.
In Arrogance and the Workplace, Colleen Sharen writes, “arrogance makes collaboration and group work difficult. Today’s business world requires that we play together well, and we don’t, in part due to our individual arrogance.”
She goes on to say that, because individual learning follows understanding that you don’t know something, you must accept feedback and constructive criticism. But, “arrogant people are more sensitive to criticism, often rejecting feedback, limiting their ability to learn.”
Computerworld quotes Jean Rialta, a life coach and lecturer on managing arrogance when she lists recognizable behaviors:
- Charismatic, articulate, and funny
- Expecting special treatment and privileges
- Disrespecting boundaries and privacy of others
- Patronizing and critical
- Unwilling or unable to accept criticism or disagreement
- Anxiety-stricken and paranoid
- Setting others up for failure and blame
- Behaving cruel, abusive, and violent
- Building cohort of other manipulators
- Feigning innocence
- Demeaning, insulting, and bullying
Perhaps the most interesting thing is that there is little research on the effect of arrogance among peer co-workers. Almost everything available focuses on identifying and managing the arrogant boss.
Leading that research has been Stanley Silverman, University of Akron professor and developer of the Workplace Arrogance Scale. Twenty-six years of research “found that the more arrogant you are on the job, the more self-centered and the less agreeable you’re likely to be. He found that arrogance can have significant negative effects on an organization’s morale and profitability.”
“He concluded that there can be a competitive advantage in curtailing arrogance and encouraging positive behaviors such as humility.” And, he also felt the behavior could change with periodic 360° feedback, the kind of performance analysis and skills assessment in tools like those offered by BizMerlin.
Arrogance and the high-potential employee
The threatening presence of arrogant bosses seems less prevalent in the largest organizations. This suggests the behavior is somehow directly or indirectly filtered or mitigated on the way up.
But, anecdotal reports complain of its prevalence in startups, certain high-stress environments, and businesses on the cusp of big growth decisions. Perhaps the surrounding anxieties cause otherwise good people to drop their defenses. Or, perhaps it comes from the lack of openness and willingness.
Few people begrudge an employee the pride that comes with achievement, the recognition and reward that is earned, and the attention performers get for outcomes that move things forward. That’s true in sports, school, and most competitive environments.
This pride and self-confidence is appreciated in someone who is self-possessed and emotionally intelligent. Writing for the Human Capital Institute, Karima Mariama-Arthur, lists these key indicators of high-potential performance:
- Bright-side personality – the everyday personality that determines leadership style, judgment, and ability to get along and get ahead
- Dark-side personality – also called derailment personality, this consists of characteristics that under stress or boredom can become debilitating career derailers
- Values – the drivers, beliefs and interests that determine what candidates are willing to work for and in what type of job, position, and organizational culture they are likely to feel most satisfied
- Cognitive ability – a measure of candidates’ ability to think tactically and strategically
There are longer and more clinical lists, but this one serves here. But, notice neither “arrogance” or “humility” are mentioned.
Absent that, the strengths favor leadership, judgment, amiability, consistency, drivers, beliefs, willingness, and cognitive ability.
The logic is that, with these virtues in place, any derailers might be mastered and reconfigured. So, if high-performance is the first index of high-potential, the employer has succeeded at mitigating the arrogance or believes the behavioral change possible.
Lacking a program or process for assessment and corrective action, the employer risks moving the debilitating behavior forward.
Character and the mediocre employee
Not all co-workers are troubled by the arrogant co-worker. For example, on Ranker’s list of Worst Traits for an Employee, “Arrogance” falls 14th, well behind “Lazy” and “Unhygienic.”
The fact and probably the orderly sense of things is that most workers are generally unproblematic. If they are just bad, poor, or disruptive, they should be removed without wasting time, cost, and energy.
But, if they go about their business with heads low and minds on their tasks, they still have a significant role. In this analysis, mediocre employees do what is expected but little more. They “don’t embrace a vision of growth either for themselves or for your practice.”
If the job is business clerical, warehouse assembly, landscape maintenance, and most of the jobs that keep the economy moving, that’s fine. But, for a company to grow exponentially and creatively, it needs the destructive influence of dialectic, disagreement, compromise, and reconciliation. And, mediocrity brings no energy to this dynamic.
It would appear, then, that mediocre employees can be a real resource. They’re the ones that get things done. If they do good work, represent the brand, and willingly participate, their quiet level heads can be invaluable.
In “The Defense of Mediocrity,” Ruth Graham wrote, “The truth is that no country can survive on excellence alone. Mediocre workers might not create the next iPad…They might slow things down a little on the job, but then again, they also keep things moving smoothly because they’re not going to ask a million perfectionist questions.”
So, do you prefer dealing with an arrogant high performer or a mediocre employee?
True leaders don’t let things happen by accident. They plan and strategize, and they facilitate the tactics and people to realize those goals.
They need an organization and management partners that see and share their vision, and they collaborate on keeping their individual baggage out of the way.
Any success strategy must assume there’s value in the capital resource people supply. But, they also understand that the very nature of that resource is dynamic and volatile. It does not work in straight lines, and statistics only find it at the edges.
So, to integrate the energy, intelligent, and abilities with the corporate purpose, employers must look for balance. They need reliable and predictive assessment means to locate and qualify recruits, deep immersion into the nature of the work their people do, and ability to set and follow relevant performance metrics.
Any ensuing balance will minimize the need to prefer any class of employee.