“Arrogance is a self-defense tactic to disguise insecurities.” – Caroll Michels
Arrogance as a Nutrient
Black. Gay. Southern. I have mentioned these double-edged swords in other blogs. Add them to adolescence – which is a difficult period in one’s life to navigate irrespective of race, sexuality, or regional upbringing – rurality and coming home to an abusive drunk of a father every day. Now we are talking about an everyday life elixir guaranteed to deplete one’s self esteem, ability to hope for the best, and willingness to see the good in any situation, among other destabilizing effects. The happy and positive memories of my background were completely overshadowed by the darker moments. Admittedly there were many positive experiences in my childhood, adolescence, and young adult lives. I must dig a little deeper to unearth them – an effort worthy of exploring in another blog.
Tangential Note: I understand the privilege I had in living with my father who ensured our family never ever went hungry, unclothed, or without shelter. Many young boys in America, especially black and brown ones, were not as fortunate to live in a two-parent, dual income home. This also does not mean the terrible things that came along with that should not be said aloud.
The exhaustion I mentioned earlier had to be replenished with something allowing me not to give up while accepting things as they were. This is different from not acknowledging them as real – I did – I simply did not allow them to go unchallenged. I turned to bouts of arrogance – I am better than this situation, I can succeed even though some people around me tells me I cannot/will not, I know better than my shouting drunk father – as a necessary nutrient to beat back the depletion of my character; the dimming of my bulb, so to speak.
The Treachery of Arrogance
Arrogance is the personality trait we all loathe in others yet deployed on a moment’s notice to shore up our own inadequacies and (perceived) threats to our ego. Irrespective of the reason(s), some of us excuse arrogance with different versions of “I had no choice,” “this one last time” and/or “he, she, they did it to me, so karma.” I am not casting judgement – I too have sold my soul to the arrogance devil here and there. Using arrogance as self-defense or proactive malevolence is nothing new.
For those of us exercising arrogance as a survival tactic do so in varying degrees. I would categorize survival arrogance not as microaggressions yet wrestling out of the grasp of our shame gremlins – to use a Brené Brown phrase – by any means necessary. This strategy facilitated my overcoming trying times when I lacked the language or intellectual capability to express my grievances or enlist help in a more constructive manner. Arrogance becomes a technique for weathering a storm we think will eventually pass. Oftentimes, the storm, dilemma, money problems, and/or untenable professional environment among other difficult circumstances, ends up being far more intense and long-lasting than any hit of arrogance can topple. This makes for additional infusion of arrogance, which the outside interprets not as a survival technique yet as a flawed individual characteristic. In trying to appear strong and independent – which can be achieved while receiving the help we all need at times – the arrogant survivalist within us wastes time, energy, and money in pretending bootstrapping is a winning strategy.
Others execute arrogance full-throttle all the time – something I think has to do with overcoming shame or dissolving feelings of not being enough. Being arrogant all the time also originates from the draining task of upholding fantasies of superiority, self-righteousness, and entitlement – all of which are rooted in a sense of inferiority. These insecure folks use arrogance as if it were air. We all know them – have worked with them, dated them, dined with them, and are related to them.
I Am a Good Leader – Notice Me
They are the self-proclaimed micro-managers who tout this non-leadership quality as if it will land them the Presidential Medal of Freedom. They are also the colleagues who walk around calling themselves “leaders.” A true leader knows you exhibit leadership qualities via your actions not in response to unasked questions or other forms of volunteered empty rhetoric. Others describe you as a leader – unprovoked and if warranted – not the person you see in the mirror. Arrogant so-called leaders create teams comprising brown nosing sycophants regardless of their qualifications or ability to do the work. This is not the same a putting an inexperienced person in a role and supporting their growth therein. It is more about installing lackeys into proximal positions who will stroke arrogant so-called leaders’ egos, not challenge their crushingly obvious poor decision making, not remind them constantly of their limited insight, or otherwise point out their charade of upstanding management style.
Members of such teams may enjoy this self-deprecating position or have no clue they are even playing this role. Some are fully aware, accepting it as truth in how the professional world works. Those aware of the so-called leaders’ shortcomings see it as an opportunity to unseat them; to correct the problem by leading through example. Others stomach the expectation of being sycophantic to acquire useful skills and establish solid exit strategies to something better. Sure, the latter may appear dishonest on the surface. In a world of choosing between the lesser of two evils, I believe the “woke” skill builders are the lesser.
The arrogant so-called leaders create the illusion of seeking and heeding outside counsel. This too is a farce. Everyone paying attention knows these external networks are stacked with more bootlickers. The external cadre of professional peers, consultants, and the like who see the false prophets for who they are has either cut ties with the arrogant so-called leaders or asserted themselves in calling out the tired cliched behavior of “playing office.” They are usually dubbed “not a good fit” or “going in a different direction” to express a veneer of humility when the arrogant so-called leaders predictably do away with them.
No recipient of micro-management or other forms of terribly draining “leadership qualities” view them as synonymous to strength, know-how, or inspiration. Arrogance does not a respectable leader make.
Tangential Note: Playing office is a phrase I started using in 2013 to describe colleagues who are incompetent, malicious, and/or tone deaf. Instead of seeking ways to improve their skill sets or otherwise strive to show up better for their colleagues, teams, organization, family, or whomever; those playing office imitate actions they think leaders do. They play devil’s advocate in meetings around immaterial topics, pose inane questions or utter ridiculous comments just to check the box of “contributing” and actively block others from executing projects efficiently and effectively. Those playing office willfully disseminate false information and/or allow inaccurate information to ride. They tout others’ ideas as their own – especially in situations where calling them out casts the ones being robbed as petty, uncooperative, and/or liars.
We Are the Best – Don’t Tell me Otherwise
Arrogance flame throwers comprise the shot-callers who irresponsibly think their business or service(s) offered has/have no “real” competition. This silly fairytale holds in the face of irrefutable evidence and credible testimonies illustrating otherwise. They often use micro-invalidations in meetings to discredit colleagues or consultants who elevate the perils of tone deafness, mediocrity and self-adulation. Ask Circuit City, Sears, Radio Shack, or Borders Bookstore about how such a professional environment unfolds.
I am Awesome – Look at My Stuff
Then there are those amongst us who wholeheartedly embrace arrogance as an admirable personality trait. They constantly fish for compliments. Conversationally, they trample topics, accolades, and any expression of interest in someone else other than themselves. They tear down others under the guise of “keeping it real” or just “stating facts.” We all know them. They are siblings, cousins, colleagues, and subject matter experts among others who incessantly inflate their abilities or the value of their possessions. Everyone witnessing this sad affair understands the obviously basic nature of the traits and objects elevated as extraordinary. This is especially the case if observers assess the arrogant person’s touted attainments and belongings with those of their peers – apples to apples. Regardless of the conversation’s topic, they manage to hijack and reorient discussions to something about them. Every word they utter is a plea for validation.
Arrogance can be both protective and perilous – a classification I see as situational. I concede being arrogant produces a net loss overall. If used as a survival technique, it can show a person being too stubborn to admit clear wrongdoing or needing to ask for help. Yet, it can work as a defense that gets you to the other side of whichever fray you traverse. If used in an authoritative, condescending, and/or self-congratulatory manner, it unmistakably reveals the smallness of the person being arrogant. This also aligns with my accepting the notion that life is about tradeoffs – using arrogance strategically sparingly to an end, not the end itself. In the words of Marty Rubin, “nothing is more self-limiting than going to extremes.”