The Arrogance Trap

July 19th, 2019 by Douglas McEncroe · No Comments · Leadership

LuciferYesterday, while working out at the gym, I got into an interesting conversation with the owner who, as well as the gym, has a great practice as a personal trainer and as a health consultant to a lot of corporations.

Anthony has a degree in Physiology from Sydney University so is not your typical gym guy. He does magnificent work and is very successful. When he was just starting out with his corporate work back in the beginning of 2007, he got a good project from Nokia. One of the people he worked with was the Director of Marketing. A few months after he started, this marketing guy called him into the office and said to him, “Anthony, we are very happy with your work but if you want to continue  with us, we have to make a few changes. Having a 90 Billion dollar business like Nokia on your books is the best thing that ever happened to you. You’ll be able to get a lot of business just because you are working with us. So, if you want to continue with Nokia, you’ll have to do the work at cost price”.

This genius was great at screwing a small supplier just starting out, but absolutely clueless about what was happening in his market. Three months after that conversation Steve Jobs launched the iPhone and Nokia went from having more than 50% of all phones sold in the world to having its corporate value decline by 90% over the next six years. In 2013 it was bought by Microsoft.

The enemy of good Leadership

The failure of Nokia has become a case study analysed by MBA students right across the globe. One of the three reasons identified for that failure is the arrogance of its senior leaders. This self-satisfied attitude is as far removed from good leadership as one could imagine. In Jim Collin’s analysis of the leadership that existed in those companies that, over a long period, consistently outperformed their competitors, the second factor he identifies is the humility of those organisations’ leaders. The quote from Harry Truman that Collins uses to kick off his chapter on Level 5 leadership, captures this spirit perfectly:

“You can accomplish anything in life, provided that you do not mind who gets the credit”

Harry S Truman

Years before “Good to Great” was published, another great leadership thinker, Robert Greenleaf captured the same spirit in his book titled Servant Leadership. Greenleaf inverted the organisational pyramid moving the CEO form his position of Kingpin at the top of the pyramid to that as servant at the bottom of the pyramid. From the base he gave service to the organisation so that senior management, middle managers, workers and suppliers could operate creatively and without fear.

In Nokia back in 2007, middle managers were too scared to say what they really thought, to share what they were seeing and hearing out in the market. The arrogance of senior leadership will do that every time with the whole organisation being the loser.

Satan’s snare

At the end of that great movie “The Devil’s advocate” Al Pacino, who plays Satan, almost succeeds in tempting the young lawyer played by Keanu Reeves to renounce all his values in exchange for unimaginable power and success. At the end Reeves resists and the whole two years in which this young lawyer had risen to the summit, but at the cost of losing his soul, evaporates and the characters return to scene where it all began. Pacino, defeated, tries again to tempt Reeves who this time only half responds. Pacino thus succeeds in at least getting in the thin edge of the wedge. He looks into the camera, smiles and says, “Ah, vanity, my favourite sin”.

Don’t let Lucifer get you!


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