New Study: Why Arrogant Bosses Are So Damaging

Do you have a boss who discredits the ideas of others while claiming to have superior ideas? Does your boss blame other people and refuse to take personal responsibility for anything? Does your boss reject feedback?

If so, you have all the makings of an arrogant boss, someone who can drag down an organization with his or her sense of superiority in all things.

Researchers at the University of Akron and Michigan State University have developed what they call the “Workplace Arrogance Scale,” which they claim can identify an arrogant boss. The 22-point scale will be introduced next week at the American Psychological Association convention by industrial and organizational psychologist and professor Stanley Silverman, dean of UA’s Summit College and University College.

The scale seeks to establish a way to measure managers so arrogance can be spotted early and stopped before it has bottom-line consequences, researchers say.

Such an assessment may be necessary for many companies, as the arrogance of many corporate leaders in the last several years has led to billion-dollar losses and in some cases sent the executives to jail for illegal activities.

In a recent issue of the Industrial-Organizational Psychologist, Silverman, along with researchers Russell E. Johnson, Nicole McConnell and Alison Carr, write that arrogance “has run amock lately.”

They write that their research shows that arrogant employees have poorer performances, create greater stress for others and their behavior is likely to create a “poisonous” atmosphere.

Such problems, they write, can lead to poorer customer satisfaction and loyalty, adversely affect a team’s ability to work together and eventually hurt the bottom line.

The problem becomes even worse when the arrogant employee is a supervisor or manager. For example, an arrogant manager is less likely to welcome or solicit feedback. Or, an arrogant manager is more likely to keep subordinates in a helpless position as he or she has authority over their promotions or opportunities. Such bosses are also much less likely to offering mentoring or coaching, leading to a less-developed team.

“Arrogant managers are therefore more likely to pursue failing courses of action that could otherwise have been prevented. Arrogant behavior can be an especially challenging problem to deal with due to the fact that arrogant individuals consider their own behavior acceptable and thus do not monitor their own actions when interacting with others,” they write.

While some may believe that arrogance is a personality trait, the researchers characterize it as a series of behaviors “intended to exaggerate a person’s sense of superiority by disparaging others.”

“Despite the apparent confidence of those engaging in arrogant behavior, research suggests that it is actually a defensive display occurring partially in response to low self-confidence. Thus, performance claims by confident individuals are based in reality, but those of arrogant individuals are not,” they write.

The researchers say that arrogant bosses can be reformed, if they’re open to coaching and feedback to change their behavior. Their awareness of their behavior is key, which is why the researchers say the new scale is so important. Once the arrogance is determined, then an action plan can be developed to help arrogant managers hone their leadership skills. That can help boost their self confidence and snuff out self doubt so they can rely on confidence that’s authentic, they write.

“Although it is true that some arrogant leaders have experienced considerable success, we argue that these individuals may have been even more effective sans the arrogant behavior. Interactions with others in the organization may have been more successful, more effective communication could have taken place, and performance could have been even more impressive if arrogance had been curtailed early on,” they conclude.

Is there any way to deal with an arrogant boss?

Silverman says one way to protect yourself is to always make sure you understand your role clearly in an organization and have the parameters of your duties in writing. The other bit advice probably will come as no surprise to those who work for an arrogant boss.

“The last thing they (arrogant bosses) want to hear from you is criticism,” he advises.

Do you have an arrogant boss? How do you deal with it?


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Posted in People Management


  • Null

    This is my total rant, but I need some opinions on how I think I can get out of an arrogant boss situation.

    I just started a new job and after getting my pens, pad of paper, and desk, I was given Advil and said I would need it. Only after 3 weeks, I see the CEO publicly belittle others, micromanage every project, and after demonstrating concerns he basically told me that I need to follow what he does even if I know there’s a better way because I have to earn his trust –of picking up the mess he creates–before I can suggest to make changes. He often asks me for an update and while I am in mid sentence he will just leave to the next conversation. This ADD behavior also spills into other areas. For example, I spent a week finding two graphic designers for him to interview. When it came time, they waited 45 AFTER their scheduled time to meet with him because he was playing around with some program on his computer. He wrote the job description, posted the ad, and controlled every aspect of the process. When it came time to do the interview he was trying to figure out how to use Apple TV to display the portfolio rather than use the interviewee’s iPad.

    During Hurricane Sandy, we got an email saying that we should just expense cab rides into work and that there was no reason we couldn’t still work because “NYC is a jungle of concrete”. Because I was within walking distance of work, I came in and was the only one there with him.

    His arrogance and ADD is the biggest liability of the company and I want out. If I had known this was the culture here, I would have never taken the job, but now I am stuck in a new city and rapidly trying to get out of the job. My sense is that with arrogant bosses, you just ride the sinking ship and jump when you see another ship come by, but it still leaves me with a concern to your suggestion with how to deal with an arrogant boss. If I ask for my job description in writing, an arrogant boss wouldn’t want to do that because that creates a red flag and feeds into their insecurity.

    You article points out that you cant change the arrogant boss and providing feedback will make it worse. But do I defend myself when his actions are the cause of project issues rather than me? The article you link says to put evaluations of arrogance in company evaluations, but what happens when the CEO is the arrogant boss!?

    My plan is to look for work immediately and focus on finishing projects I have been assigned as quickly as possible to have something to show for and only put my two-week notice in when I can be prepared to ask to leave that day, too. Is this a good solution?

    • Jack

      Well, Null, if you’ve been in the corporate world long enough, you know the only real solution to your issue is to find other employment and leave. I hope you were able to move on before too much damage was done to your career and your mindset.

  • Medic P Bust

    I work for a very small company, in fact its a supply store where they have 6 employees aside from the couple owners. The manager is a woman who could be the poster child for Arrogant Bosses. According to her, nobody can surpass her inteligence & sales record. She twists things around to make herself look good to the owners, she belittles the employees by yelling at them in front of customers, I’m telling you, this is a real B**ch on wheels if there ever was one.
    So far I have worked there for 5 months, I have plans to leave that place in 3 months. I am looking to going into business for myself in something totally different, and let me tell you, I am not taking notes on how to manage a store from her, that is for damn sure.
    It’s really bad when you go into work everyday backwards, whishing you were somewhere else. The male owner is an idiot, he is either nice and giving or he will cut your head off the next minute. Both the owner & manager have issues beyond this article.
    What I do to survive is to follow this cliché; “Keep your friends close and your ennemies closer”. I put light on situations, joke around and cater to their exagerated egos. Its exhausting and draining, but I figure there is only 3 months to go. The reason I stick around is the pay is great and the hours are fantastic.
    Believe me, when I leave somoene will get what’s coming to them, ☺

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