Smug Leaders:  What Good are They?

By | December 28, 2017

[December 28, 2017]  In 1962, Avid Rental Car was losing money and looking to reinvent itself.1  Avis was trailing behind the market leader Hertz, so they hired an ad agency which came up with the slogan, “When you’re only No. 2, you try harder … or else.”  Avis executives were terrified of failure; one thing they were not was smug leaders.

The “we try harder” ads were an instant hit.  Within a year, Avis went from losing $3.2 million to earning $1.2 million and profitable for the first time in a decade.  The Avis leadership message to its potential customers was clear in that they could not afford to be second-rate.  They had to be better than their competitors.  Interestingly and because of the ad’s success, it ran for the next 50 years.

On the flip side, what happens when a leader is smug?  Smug leaders are those who consider themselves better than everyone else and let you know it.  Oh, to be smug, you don’t have to be a leader … and we’ve all met someone smug in their ways, probably a family member you had to put up with over the Christmas holidays.

A contemporary example of a smug leader is New York City mayor Bill de Blasio.  I am certainly no fan of his, so I will make that clear up front.  Mayor de Blasio is one of the reasons I moved out of Brooklyn to get away from increasing taxes and regulations, declining services, and general harassment of those of us making money.  But it was his Progressive ideology that made him believe that he was the second-coming to the City and he could do no wrong.  He reminded us of that daily.

“As long as they’re talking off the record, many Democratic leaders and operatives will trash [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio. They think he’s smug. Annoying. In it for himself without any follow-through. The rap on de Blasio is that he likes to make a lot of noise but doesn’t like to do a lot of work, that he has an oversize sense of his own importance.” – Isaac Dovere, Politico2

Reporter Dovere’s article gives us a good description of the problem with smug leaders; as opposed to narcissistic leaders who are just plain toxic.  Smug leaders often slip under the radar with their I-know-it-all personalities, creating a sense of entitlement in themselves and those closest to them.  That is why I wrote that Hillary Clinton was a smug leader as opposed to a narcissistic leader.

Some consider smugness as a trait of narcissistic leaders but I disagree.  Smugness stands as a class on its own.  One thing those who study this type of leadership agree upon is that smug leaders are more into talking about problems and issues than into doing the work in solving them, dismissing most people as beneath them intellectually and unsophisticated, and as unworthy.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.