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I was meeting with a client a few weeks ago who told me that he looks for entrepreneurs with the “right kind of arrogance,” which I found to be a fascinating way to explain something that is very confusing to most of us.

What does it mean to have the “right” kind and what exactly is the “wrong” kind anyway?



(yes, I know. this is what I would look like with a mustache and 70s hair.)

Let’s begin by saying that it takes a fair amount of arrogance to think that you are the person capable of doing something no one else has done. It requires a deep belief that you are somehow chosen for greatness or that you are capable of accomplishing impossible tasks regardless of how varied, unknown and dangerous the obstacles are. You have to have a level of faith in yourself and your abilities that borderlines on delusional, or else you would be like everyone else and stay home rather than discover a passage from Portugal to India. (Let’s leave out whether that’s a good thing.)

(Vasco Da Gama looking humble.)


(Fun fact, he signed his name as “The Admiral Count” -thanks wikipedia)

In fact, I am betting that even the most humble of leaders has been known to have a certain edge to them.


I once had someone tell me that Ghandi was, despite his commitment to nonviolence, a fairly angry guy. Regardless, he had the audacity to believe that he could push the British out of India and that he could do it without weapons. He was not a shrinking flower.

The wrong type of arrogance is the kind what allows our belief that we can accomplish great things to corrupt our ability to know our limitations.

(Icarus comes to mind, no matter how Seth Godin wants to interpret him)


“Pride goeth before a fall” was how they explain it in Proverbs. And there is a whole industry around celebrating people for their pride and courage and then enjoying their fall.

One way to discern whether you have the right kind of arrogance or the wrong kind is in how well you take critical feedback and how capable are you to pivot when there is a cliff ahead.

Great leaders and entrepreneurs are also great survivors, capable of adapting to the immediate needs of their situations. While perseverance is important and stick-to-itiveness is crucial to success, being a blockhead or ignoring sound advice are usually recipes for disaster.

Here are some basic ways to tell if you are acting out of the wrong kind of arrogance:

1. You’d rather be right than win.

Don’t laugh. I have seen many people willing to lose everything just so that they can prove that they were right. These are the kind of people willing to sink their own ship just to prove that they would be willing to go down with it.

2. You would only pivot from your original plan if, well, never. You will never pivot.

There is a great story about the natural toothpaste company called Tom’s of Maine. It is pretty popular beyond even the patchouli wearing crowd and Colgate bought it for over $100 million dollars about ten years ago. Great story about a Maine business being successful. Did you know that it was originally an all natural paste used to clean car parts? Yeah. Turns out there wasn’t a lot of money in that. Put it on your teeth though, and you’ve got yourself a business. If Tom didn’t pivot, then we wouldn’t have this:


(Mmmm. You can really taste the fennel. Seriously though, I love this toothpaste)

3. No accountability.

Does this really need explanation? I can tell right away whether someone is tragic arrogant or just mildly arrogant based upon how they tell their story of their successes and failures. If every failure is because of somebody else’s incompetence and every success the result of their own work, then you have the recipe for the Titanic.

Just to put this in perspective:

Wrong arrogance:


(The Steve Jobs who had never experienced failure)

And the right kind of arrogance:

Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the new mini iPod in San Francisco in 2004

(And the Steve Jobs who figured out how to lead a company)

The question is whether we have the willingness to learn, listen and to change while maintaining our determination, perseverance and unfailing belief in our abilities.

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