‘Early in life I had to chose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have not seen reason to change’
This is a quote by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), pioneering architect, critical and conceptual thinker of spaces ad places, father of a movement and a style, a great mind and an often controversial figure.
This is a great quote. A great frame for leaders. There are always choices, big choices and small choices, mundane choices and existential choices.
I respect them all.
But I recognise my choice in the honest arrogant side: as a consulting company we operate with fixed ‘honestly arrogant’ principles. For example we don’t sell our time. Yep! It is simply something we don’t sell. We sell advise, outcomes, help, value, hands on implementation, motivation, engagement, ideas, critical thinking, dreams, realities. We are organizational architects . We sell organizational houses, not the time that takes to build them.
Our ‘honest arrogance’ drives Procurement Departments nuts, delights great customers and puzzles others. How easy is to default to hypocritical humility.
Oh, I forgot, we also sell restlessness, sometimes comfort.
I will draw a parallel with leadership, the really interesting topic, not me. Leadership needs authenticity, clarity of the value it brings, unapologetic stances, its own ‘honest arrogance’. Respect for others, driving others to better pathways, mobilizing energies and, in general, ‘taking others within you’, start from a position of authenticity. This is often seen as arrogant or superior. How sad that ‘hypocritical humility’ is far more politically correct and far more accepted.
I’ve seen (I meet every day) weak leaders, middle of the road CEOs, unauthentic leaders, dishonest arrogant ones, and anything in between. But I also see great leaders and great minds. From the latter, all of them have in common the right imbalance between that honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. As for the best I know (whether clients, friends, no clients, no friends) it is crystal clear what they stand for. Whether I like it or not.
Even my favourite ones, the ones who don’t profess to have all the answers, the ones who don’t have a fixed destination, the ones who are more Travellers and Cartographers than anything else, do all these things from a position of strength. Their humility is a strength, not hypocritical. Their honesty may come across as arrogance. But most of them are the most anti-arrogant people I have never met. In a world of often weak principles, strong ones may come across as self-important, too proud or superior.
Most historical religious, political or civic leaders, did not say, have black, or perhaps pink, it does not really matter, red is good as well, but if you like green, so be it; it’s all the same, it’s all relative, don’t worry about it; it all depends on circumstances’. Nope. It does not.
My colleague and business partner Caroline Tierney brings the Lloyd Wright quote to the table many times: ‘are we building a Lloyds Wright house or a drive-through MacDonald’s?’ The horror of the wrong choice keeps us on track.