For decades, we’ve told CEOs to be humble. It’s fine to be confident, even fiercely determined, we say, but arrogance will bring you down. The ideal leader respects and listens to colleagues, communicates honestly, adjusts opinions when confronted with new evidence, and makes decisions that strengthen the organization rather than his or her own position.
The problem is that everything else in corporate life pushes CEOs in the opposite direction. To rise in the organization, executives have to focus relentlessly on themselves. If they win the tournament, they gain power and prestige that isolates them. Arrogance is almost inevitable, as is (somewhat paradoxically) paranoia.
When consultant Roger Jones interviewed dozens of CEOs and other senior executives, he kept seeing the same five deep-seated fears. They worried about appearing to be incompetent, vulnerable, and foolish; they worried about under-achieving; and they feared political attacks from their colleagues. None of these top-of-mind fears involved the businesses or the organizations they led. The leaders were caught up in themselves, and their fears were limiting their effectiveness.