By Tom Davidson
Egotism is a blind spot, so if you have it, you are unlikely to know it. See if you can relate below or find out how to deal with those who are egotistical!
A leader can never have too much confidence, but the daily news is filled with stories about derailed executives, athletes, and politicians with too much of a good thing, people like Jeffrey Skilling, Lance Armstrong, and Anthony Weiner. But what exactly is that fine line between confidence and arrogance? How can everyday leaders stay on the right side of the equation. The answer lies in the Ladder of Arrogance and what you do to avoid climbing it. The Ladder of Arrogance has these four rungs, the first two of which were discussed in part 1 of this blog series and third discussed below:
1. Confident – The state of being certain, decisive, deliberate and responsible
2. Overconfident – The condition of being confident to the point of occasionally losing perspective, dismissing evidence and advice, or lacking a clear awareness due to blind spots
3. Egotistical – The mindset of being self-centered to such a degree that the afflicted leader overlooks his impacts on others. The egotistical leader is not deliberately malicious but is preoccupied with vanity, boastfulness, fame and self-interest.
4. Arrogant – The state of believing one’s self to be superior to others, supremely capable in areas beyond one’s true competence, and being malicious or dismissive of others in the process, either by intent or impact.
While you will have your own examples, my most recent trip to Gettysburg National Military Park provided me with some unique and particularly memorable ones. What can long-dead Civil War generals teach modern-day leaders about the Ladder of Arrogance? This blog post is about rung #3 on the ladder you don’t want to climb, and it features the famous and colorful General J.E.B. Stuart.
Rung #3: Egotism – Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart
Egotism is a step above overconfidence on the Ladder of Arrogance. It is self-centeredness to such a degree that the afflicted leader overlooks his impacts on others; he does not see them. The egotistical leader is not deliberately malicious but is preoccupied with vanity, boastfulness, fame and self-interest. At the Battle of Gettysburg, this was exemplified by General J.E.B. Stuart, Commander of the Cavalry Corp of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Stuart was a skilled and flamboyant leader, known for his showy dress and headline-grabbing tactics. The cavalry he commanded was essential to Lee and the Army of Northern Virginia, primarily for reconnaissance and guarding supplies, but at the time of the battle, Stuart was out of position and out of touch with his commander, Gen. Robert E. Lee. This left Lee unaware of the enemy’s movements until it was too late, with Stuart’s cavalry not arriving at Gettysburg until the evening of the second day when the battle was two-thirds over.
Egotism played a central part in Stuart’s shortcomings at the battle. Shortly before Gettysburg, Stuart’s cavalry had been neutralized at the Battle of Brandy Station, and his reputation was tarnished. As the Army of Northern Virginia ventured deep into northern territory to move the fight out of Virginia and obtain several other strategic advantages, Stuart saw an opportunity to regain favor (and headlines) by riding around the approaching Union forces as he had done elsewhere before. But this contributed to his long separation from his commander and failure to be “the eyes of the Army” at a crucial time.
To Stuart’s credit, he recognized his mistake when confronted by Lee, accepted responsibility, and learned from his error in judgment, never to be separated in this way again. This showed that Stuart was not an arrogant leader (the fourth rung on the Ladder of Arrogance) but an egotistical one. An egotistical leader tends to blindly put his personal needs above those of others, not with malicious intent but with unintended consequences nonetheless.
Egotism is a blind spot, so if you have it, you are unlikely to know it. Every day leaders need to be made aware of their blind spots before they become detailers. Therefore, it is important that new managers (and experienced executives alike) get regular feedback on their performance, preferably using 360-degree feedback tools, executive coaches, and assessment centers to get an accurate picture of their strengths and weaknesses.
Do you know an egotistical leader like Stuart? What are your observations about this blind spot, and what do you recommend?