At the beginning of the month I wrote “The dangers of being an arrogant boss,” and a reader emailed me with an interesting comment. She said that she thought the advice was useful, but that it didn’t touch on the opposite—and just as important—issue of arrogant employees. “The fault can’t always be the boss’s,” she wrote.
That’s a valid point: One doesn’t need a management title to be arrogant—or to be destructive. Arrogant employees can be disastrous for teamwork, morale and even retention. If you’re leading a team with an arrogant member, follow these tips to remedy the situation:
- Do not attempt to “put the person in his or her place.” Tempting as it might be, never respond to a team member’s arrogance with public condescension, sarcasm or chastisement. That will backfire for three reasons. First, it will make you appear petty to your team. Even if your team members are fed up with their arrogant peer, they still will not respond well to a leader who acts immaturely. Second, the arrogant person will likely respond argumentatively, which will elevate the tension without resolving the main problem. Third, insecurity is often at the heart of arrogance, so embarrassing the person will increase the insecurity and, possibly, the arrogance as well.
- Speak with the person privately. Make note of a specific incident in which the person’s arrogance negatively affected the team, and talk to the employee about it privately. Approach the situation as a coaching opportunity. Example: “Matt, I don’t know if you were aware of it, but today during the meeting, you talked about your and Martha’s success as if it were just yours. I want you to be aware of your word choices and how they might be interpreted.” Note: Stick to the individual incident, and do not make blanket statements like “Your arrogance is once again hurting our team dynamics” or “You need to check your ego.” In fact, if you can avoid using the loaded words “arrogant,” “egotistical” and any of their variations, all the better.
- Praise fairly—and generously. Alleviate everyone’s insecurities by regularly praising people’s successes openly. That will lessen the arrogant person’s need to toot his or her own horn all the time, and it will ease others’ fears that you’re missing their contributions. Example: “Everyone, I wanted to make you aware of the huge sale that Matt and Martha just made. It was the biggest we’ve had in six months. Martha, those late nights you spent researching XYZ really paid off, and Matt, you closed the sale like a pro. Let’s give them a round of applause.” In that scenario, you ensure that Martha—not to mention the rest of the team—knows that you recognize her value, and you also fulfill Matt’s need for approval.
- Expect progress, but recognize that real change takes time. Arrogance is a deeply ingrained characteristic. People don’t develop it overnight, and it won’t disappear that quickly either—even if you’re an excellent manager. Keep coaching the person when you see problematic behaviors and celebrating praiseworthy achievements. However, if you don’t see any improvement over time, consider letting the employee go. Do your best to help him or her become a team player, but ultimately you have to do what’s best for your team and your organization.
One final tip: Be aware of your blind spots. Many arrogant employees are average workers, but some are excellent at what they do. It’s much easier to recognize and be annoyed by the former group, but don’t forget about the latter. Sometimes managers turn a blind eye to their all-star performers’ egotism. After all, they really are the best at what they do, and you’re grateful for their contributions. However, their behavior can be just as damaging to the rest of your team members’ morale. If you ignore those employees’ arrogance, others will likely think you are unfair and out-of-touch—and a leader like that is even more destructive to a team than an arrogant employee is.
What tips do you have for managing arrogant employees?
[Image Source: Abe Novy]