How Leaders Prevent Falling Off the Arrogance Cliff

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My favorite cartoon has always been The Roadrunner.

Every week I’d anticipate that moment when, without fail, the Coyote would find himself running full-speed along a mountain ridge, only to look down and discover that the road had ended. He had run straight off the cliff.

When it comes to leadership character, I’ve also seen too many leaders run straight off the cliff without realizing what was happening.

The cliff I’m talking about is that point where a healthy, growing sense of self-confidence suddenly turns into arrogance.

Leaders need confidence. They need to grow in their sense of assuredness and personal resolve. But too many leaders I’ve seen have failed to stop short of the cliff where self-confidence turns into arrogance.

Unlike healthy self-confidence, arrogance is destructive. It is a deep character flaw that forces all attention onto one’s self, minimizes the contributions of anyone else, and ultimately results in eroded trust.

And when that happens, a plunge to the canyon floor can’t be far behind.

So how can a leader grow in confidence, but not step over the cliff into arrogance?

The best way is to invite truth-tellers into your life who will let you know when you’re getting a little close to the edge.

Effective leaders I know surround themselves with truth-tellers from these three circles:

  • The circle of close advisers

Set up a small group of trusted leadership advisers whom you can trust to “speak the truth in love” when they see character flaws appearing. These can be members of your own board or others higher in the organization.

  • The circle of senior team members

There are likely a few key people on your own team who would have the wisdom, insight and sensitivity to serve you in this way. Give them permission to take you aside when they sense the cliff is approaching.

  • The circle of trusted outside voices

The best leaders I know develop a key circle from well outside the realm of their leadership. Such people are interested only in your development and can therefore speak with great candor.

There’s no question that as you grow in your leadership, you’ll grow in your self-confidence. That’s as it should be.

Just be sure you stop well short of the cliff that leads to arrogance.

Because when you plunge off that cliff, not even Acme might be able to save you.

How do you self-confidence from turning into arrogance?

the author

Scott Cochrane

Lifelong learner, practitioner and coach of leadership, across more than 50 countries. Follower of Jesus, husband of Nora, grateful parent and grandparent.


  1. This is great, I lectured about this subject last week students first coming out of a degree want to move mountains and as they run in full force they find themselves off the cliff.

    As a professor I use experience as real life examples, in this case my real life example as a new team leader for materials management was delegation; I did not seek input from the new team prior to delegation and a unit was ignored and a huge backlog caused unnecessary overtime and a new red faced team leader. A humbling experience and a lesson well learned.

  2. Great feedback Robin. Gathering meaningful input from others is indeed humbling for leaders but, as you’ve pointed out, it’s so important in avoiding problems down the road.

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

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