Cultivating Confidence: 360-Degree Assessment Can Help

Just today, a manager at my full-time job amazed me with his brazen arrogance. He’s the kind of person you’d like to have as a neighbor or to chat with over a cup of coffee, but not always as charming to work with. Case in point: In a group e-mail, a task he originally was responsible for needed to get done. Rather than kindly asking for help, he just noted: “Simple to get done.” At that point, I wish his boss had jumped in and said: “Great, then you should have no trouble getting it done today.”

Instead, it was just assumed (without the manager ever deigning to ask) that someone would jump in and take care of his unfinished work for him. The inability or unwillingness to humble himself enough to ask, rather than just assuming, is a sign of arrogance.

When I got news today of a new book, “Catalyst,” by Steven Smith and David Marcum, I thought of this arrogant manager: “Humility, openness, empathy, and transparency are stronger elements of confidence than swagger, bravado, and competitiveness,” says Smith. “Pure confidence is stronger than the tentativeness of being timid, and it’s smarter than the bluster of being arrogant. It’s vital to know the difference and to act accordingly.”

Confidence is important, as no one will believe you can get high-quality work done on time if you don’t believe it yourself. But how can managers (and the bosses of managers) cultivate a balanced perspective that doesn’t allow the confidence to bleed into arrogance?

One way to assess how employees are being perceived by their peers, subordinates, and managers is to conduct yearly 360-degree assessments. In more than a dozen years in the workforce, I’ve never participated in a 360-degree assessment—mine or anyone else’s—but I now see the value of it. When it comes to the manager in question, it would give me (and others) a chance to note his disregard for others’ workload and work processes, and his condescending assumption—arrogance—that he is just the big picture man and those who work with him are here to take care of the pesky details he can’t be bothered with.

An arrogant attitude does more than create an unpleasant working partner; it discourages collaboration. After all, who wants to collaborate with a person who usually feels that he knows best and who is loathe to admit mistakes or ignorance on any topic?

Arrogance also stymies the lifetime-of-learning attitude trainers typically value. For example, this manager I’ve described has never learned the most basic elements of the Website content management system we use because he seems to feel it’s beneath him, and is embarrassed to concede that it’s hard for him. As a consequence, to so much as add a hyperlink, he has to write out instructions, rather than easily take care of it himself. A more humble attitude would acknowledge the reciprocal learning relationship between manager and employee that should take place—and he would appreciate being taught.

An arrogant attitude also can lead a person to proclaim himself an “expert” at something he actually knows little about—a proposition that can lead to many corporate morasses. For example, the manager I’ve described doesn’t appear to read any online publications himself—in fact, he often complained about how online publications never compare to their print counterparts. Yet over the last six months, he has designated himself a guru of Web analytics and Web readership preferences. He often critiques our online publications, noting, “According to research from professor X, Web readers prefer XY&Z.”

Fortunately, the manager in my case study is not in a high enough position to threaten company-wide policy or direction with his pseudo-expertise, but imagine if he were! It makes me wonder how many corporate executives are out there who are arrogant enough to believe themselves to be experts in a given area, and then make market strategy decisions that negatively affect company profitability. They are arrogant enough to believe themselves experts and are only proven wrong once it’s too late.

A 360-degree assessment that gives everyone who works with an employee the ability to comment on that employee’s attitude and value as a collaborator can alert trainers and Human Resources managers that you have an arrogant manager on your hands. That arrogance may be more than unpleasant—it may sink productivity and lead to poor decision-making.

How does your company cultivate confident, yet humble, leaders? Are there any leadership books or seminars you can recommend?