[September 20, 2021] A lot can be said about the many traits we find in the best of leaders: loyalty, morally courageous, accountability, etc. Conversely, there has been little written about destructive leader characteristics, those traits that damage those inside their organization and act as impediments to excellence. But among those destructive traits, which one is the most damaging? Which characteristic acts as an acidic factor that, if not corrected, will lead to the downfall of the organization?
While many have their ideas on this topic through the unfortunate experiences they’ve had over time, typically, that experience was with an overbearing boss or leader who maintained a toxic work environment. Little scientific research has actually been done because we rightly focus on what we need 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 senior leaders discuss this topic, at least informally, because they are always on the lookout 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 senior leader experiences, most would tell us that “arrogance” is the most destructive trait because it leads to a person’s very perverse and unpredictable behavior. Arrogance – having excessive pride in oneself and contempt for others – is closely tied to hostility. 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.2
Arrogance is like blinders on a horse; the blinder limits the horse’s view of the surrounding environment and subjects the horse to stress. Arrogance in humans limits their view of reality and distorts their understanding of the many factors that make 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.
Arrogance is the worst leader trait because it is the one that allows someone to fall into evil. Because an arrogant person believes they are superior to others, what they do must, by definition, be the right thing to do. If that means killing, torture, corruption, theft, etc., then the “ends justify the means.” And, that is why Socialism is an evil ideology as well.