HR Policies & Procedures

It’s WARS Against Arrogant Bosses

By Elaine Quayle

Employees who always knew their bosses were egotistical, condescending, and supercilious can now declare WARS on them to prove it! Thanks to joint research at the University of Akron (UA) and Michigan State University, we now have the Workplace Arrogance Scale—or WARS.

According to a press release, WARS was presented at the American Psychological
Association convention by UA Professor Dr. Stanley Silverman, an industrial and organizational psychologist, who explained that WARS can help organizations identify arrogant managers before they have a costly and damaging impact.  Arrogant bosses can drain the bottom line because they are typically poor performers who cover up their insecurities by disparaging subordinates, leading to organizational dysfunction and employee turnover.

“Does a boss demonstrate different behaviors with subordinates and supervisors?” Silverman asks. He says a “yes” answer could mean trouble. Silverman warns that “yes” replies to these other questions raise red flags and signal arrogance.

  • Does your boss put his or her personal agenda ahead of the organization’s agenda?
  • Does the boss discredit others’ ideas during meetings and often make them look bad?
  • Does your boss reject constructive feedback?
  • Does the boss exaggerate his or her superiority and make others feel inferior?

So, says Silverman, arrogance is characterized by a pattern of behavior that demeans others in an attempt to prove competence and superiority. Silverman says this behavior is correlated with lower intelligence scores and lower self-esteem when compared to managers who are not arrogant.  [HRSBT—So, workers who thought their arrogant boss also wasn’t very smart might be right?]

The bad news is that left unchecked, arrogant leaders can be a destructive force within an organization, notes Silverman. With power over their employees’ work assignments, promotion opportunities, and performance reviews, arrogant bosses put subordinates in a helpless position. They do not mentor junior colleagues nor do they motivate a team to benefit the organization as a whole, contributing to a negative social workplace atmosphere.

The good news is that Silverman says arrogance is less a personality trait than a series of behaviors, which can be addressed through coaching—if the arrogant boss is willing to change.  He recommends that organizations incorporate an assessment of arrogance into the employee review and performance management process.

Details of the Workplace Arrogance Scale were published in the July 2012 issue of The Industrial-Organizational Psychologist.