I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on what it means to be a leader over the last couple weeks, along with considering factors that can lead to his or her success or demise. With this lens, I found that there was a potential theme that I felt was somewhat shortsightedly discarded in Why Good Companies Fail to Thrive in Fast-Moving Industries. While the introductory paragraph included arrogance in a laundry list of reasons for a company to stumble, it explicitly stated that arrogance was not the cause of the failures of companies discussed in this article. Rather, the article points to disruptive innovation. The author argues that arrogance wasn’t at play, but I would counter that arrogance could be at the very heart of the failures cited.
While the argument for the factors that lead to disruptive innovation and in turn the demise of successful companies that results from these factors are sound, it’s interesting that each of the companies cited had been consistently and publicly praised for their strong management and leadership, so it could easily be intuited that a certain level of arrogance was potentially at play. The article states that “one common theme to all these failures, however, is that decisions that led to failure were made when the leaders in question were widely regarded as among the best companies in the world.” For instance, in reference to Sears, one commentator noted that “Sears let arrogance blind it to basic changes taking place in the American marketplace.”
Recently I’ve been considering whether arrogance is what leads to the ultimate demise of a leader, and in turn their company, organization, etc. On the surface, it appears that leaders have all the power, and those surrounding them are likely to maintain that belief for a variety of potentially self-serving purposes, but in the end, that power is often an illusion. Leaders who are able to maintain a healthy dose of that reality are the ones who are likely to succeed. Setting aside the arrogance that comes with a sense of power allows a leader to stay in touch with reality, thereby sensing and even seeking out impending threats and potential weaknesses. Otherwise, as the article notes, decisions can be made in an environment that sows the seeds for failure.
Leadership requires a tremendous amount of confidence, but there are skills required to balance and in some cases even override that trait which easily morphs into arrogance. They include the ability to observe, to listen, to think beyond profit and to establish an environment where creativity and differing viewpoints are not just tolerated but encouraged, respected, and wholly considered. Perhaps this is the key to continued success.