Why Humble Leaders Succeed and Arrogant Leaders Don’t


Here’s an interesting observation from our executive coaching engagements: self-perception plays a huge role in leaders’ success.

We run a voluntary executive assimilation program for one of our clients. It works like this: when VP-CXO executives at this organization take a new role, they’re given the option to self-select into our program, which is designed to help orient them to the new role in three ways:

  1. We help them to identify their true charter (often, it’s not what they understood when they took the role.)

  2. We assimilate them to their team.

  3. We coach them.

As a whole, the program has helped to assimilate 30 executives into new roles. All 30 of those executives have succeeded. Literally 100%.

In environments where 40-50% typically fail, that’s a notable impact.

Despite this, not all executives want to enter the program. That’s totally fine; it’s difficult to push rope when people aren’t really interested in working with you. In fact, that’s why we prefer our programs to be voluntary and not force-fed.

But it does beg the question: why?

I had an executive ask me that recently – why would anyone turn down support? She’s in the middle of our program, and she couldn’t fathom it.

The simple answer? The executives who don’t opt in don’t think they need it. The deeper answer? Arrogance.

Leaders’ that don’t believe they need help are less likely to succeed.

Arrogant executives see themselves as self-sufficient. Ironically, these people are less likely to succeed.

The data bears this out. HBR recently cited humility as a critical character for leaders to possess. It makes sense: people don’t like to work for an arrogant boss. When an arrogant leader (who doesn’t need any help) comes into a new role, they create too much noise. They might be intelligent, competent, and impressive – but without humility, their methods will wear on their teams. Eventually, people will start to resist them and their ideas.

For arrogant leaders, things always (eventually) go south.

Leaders that seek to learn are more likely to succeed.

Humble people are better primed for success – and ironically, they’re the ones who are the most likely to engage with our program.

That’s because humble leaders take every learning opportunity they’re offered. They aren’t complacent with their own abilities. Instead, they’re constantly seeking to improve, and they’re able to recognize the areas in which they need to do so.

This endears them to their teams. They don’t create unnecessary noise or wear on people with their grandiose perceptions of their own abilities. Instead, their humility and accurate self-perception give them credibility when the time comes to push an agenda.

The truth is that everyone has room to grow.

Humble leaders recognize that. Arrogant leaders, unfortunately for those who work with and for them, do not. They’ll push hard, cause conflict, and grind people’s gears.

If the pushback gets loud enough, their boss may step in, ask for an executive assessment to be done, and call for a coach to fix the issues.

And we can.

But attempting to fix things after issues have been allowed to rear up is like trying to restore a paper bag that’s been crushed and crinkled into a ball. Can you get the wrinkles back out of the bag and get it to work again? Sure, to some degree. But things work better if you don’t crinkle the thing into a ball in the first place!

The lesson here: Be humble. Don’t ignore your own shortcomings. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.

We’re here for executive coaching when you need it.