Not too long ago, I had a deep conversation with a young entrepreneur, who had approached me to potentially invest in his company, about how his communications and behavior came across as arrogant to people he was asking for help, advice, or to be investors in his company. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because of his young age, and I shared what I learned from my experience in the military, consulting, corporate career, and the building of multiple companies. I summed it in the one quote that stuck with me from my old boss in the military: “The difference between cocky pilots and arrogant pilots? The cocky ones are still alive.”
I told him being cocky is a requirement for being an entrepreneur. Especially for one pushing a new idea! But being arrogant simply doesn’t work when you have yet to deliver actual results. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, Elon Musk, and others like them earned the right to be arrogant (even though some are not), but he and I haven’t. And, in my maybe not-so-humble opinion, even if we do earn that right, being arrogant is still not something to aspire to. I thought I had done him a great favor because the two symptoms of Founderitis, Hubris and Arrogance, have killed more companies and good ideas than anything else I have encountered over my life so far.
But then he went to hear a speech by a very well-known investor and author, who by the way got his money from being an early employee of a very famous company, not by being an actual entrepreneur himself, and heard something different. During the Q&A period the young man asked him: “What do you do when people call you arrogant?” And the great man answered, “Ignore them.” I heard about this exchange by another person who was in the audience who asked what I thought of the great man’s answer. My response: “That’s sad! I would have answered it differently.” And I shared how I would have answered the question. So here it goes:
When someone calls you arrogant, please ask them to elaborate why and sincerely listen to the answer. There is a big difference between arrogance of thought and arrogance of behavior! And there is an even bigger difference between being called arrogant because of your thoughts vs because of your behavior.
On most days, I have at least one thought that challenges the status-quo, and can easily be considered arrogant by many people, and that’s before I finish my first cup of coffee. And I am darn proud of that. That’s not arrogance of behavior. Or as they say in the South, it ain’t bragging if you done it! I can’t do what I do at Ideasphere without that attitude, and the companies I advise expect nothing less. That’s arrogance of thought. Our world would never change without arrogance of thought. That’s a good thing. That’s the kind of arrogance to aspire to.
On the other hand, treating executives or investors with many years of experience who have built or run multi-million dollar companies without the respect they deserve, is arrogant behavior. Trying to FORCE other people to think I am smarter than them, just because I have a different way of looking at the world, or have a new idea, or by pretending my accomplishments are larger than they are, is arrogant. If I am humble, I make my idea the center point so other people can decide for themselves. If I am arrogant, people focus on me and my idea never gets a chance. Arrogant people are more often than not insecure and they feel a need to put others down. Telling, or trying to prove, to other people they are stupid, does not necessarily make me any smarter. That’s not how ideas are sold. Or as a friend of mine says, you can’t win an election simply by convincing 49% of the people their ideas are wrong! It’s more important to convince 51% of the people my ideas are right.
Entrepreneurs who have arrogance of thought, but are not arrogant, change the world. The ones who don’t separate the two most often don’t.
But then again, what do I know??