[September 16, 2022] Much can be said about the many traits we find in the best of leaders; loyalty, morality, courage, accountability, etc. Conversely, much has been written about destructive leader traits that damage their organization and act as impediments to excellence. But among those destructive traits, which one is the most damaging? Which is the most caustic factor that, if not corrected, will lead to the organization’s downfall?
We’ve all had unfortunate experiences with an overbearing boss or leader who maintained a toxic work environment. Little scientific research has been done on destructive leaders because we rightly focus on those things we need to have to be good leaders. Yet, there is no reason we cannot have science and experience combined to give us the most destructive leader trait.
Not unexpectedly, many leaders discuss this topic because they are always looking for leaders who may express undesirable traits. For example, narcissistic leaders can be challenging to identify if one does not know the revealing signs. Recently one study identified this most destructive leader trait as “hostility.”1 The authors postulate that leader hostility was closely associated with low job satisfaction and anxiety in workers.
Using leader experiences, most would tell us that “arrogance” is the most destructive leader trait because it leads to some very perverse and unpredictable behavior by leaders. Arrogance – having excessive pride in oneself and contempt for others – is closely tied to hostility in that those who are arrogant are very much intolerant of anything short of perfection (and only they define perfection). Arrogant leaders believe only they can be right and others are wrong.
Arrogance is like blinders on a horse; the blinder limits the horse’s view of the surrounding environment and subjects the horse’s stress. Arrogance in humans limits their view of reality and distorts their understanding of the many factors that make for an effective workplace. Arrogance is a sign of a leader who is also unable to create long-term, effective teamwork. Such leaders are subject to failure and destructiveness that is predictable and unfortunate.
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