It has been said that people don’t leave companies, they leave people.  When an employee chooses to leave an organization it is more likely because they have reached a level of dissatisfaction in a relationship with their immediate supervisor.  This problem is more pervasive than employers like to admit.  When I asked leaders to tell me how the problem of poor managers affects their workplace culture, they usually responded with a shrug and said that it really wasn’t a problem.  Yes, they had turnover; but the reasons for employees leaving weren’t typically about poor superiors.

Well, the employees may have a different opinion.

One in two employees have left a company to get away from a superior that was overbearing, toxic or simply a bully. Gallup: Business Journal, 7/7/16

A bad manager is bad for business.  Their presence and posturing does not create an environment that welcomes growth or encourages employee engagement. Their behavior generates quite the opposite.

Employees are leaving in order to improve their own well being; or they are staying in the workplace and doing only what they have to do in order to get by (low engagement).  Those who do leave, do not do so hastily.  Most make an effort to communicate better, seek to resolve differences and after many failed attempts to meet unrealistic expectations, they quit. The truth is they quit the relationship long before they quit the job.

The confusing part of the equation is that companies are in the habit of promoting ineffective managers to a leadership role and not holding them accountable for the conflicts that lead to turnover.  But then again, maybe that is because their work objectives are being met and the bad manager is good at appearing to be in control.

Appearances could be the root of the problem.  A bad manager might not be good at working with their employees, but can be very good at appearing to be confident.  They can be well versed in saying the right things, achieve measurable objectives in a timely way and hold their own in a meeting with upper management.  But the perceived confidence is more of a cover up for the inadequacies that truly exist.  We are used to saying you can’t judge a book buy its cover.  That is true in these management situations – you can’t judge a bad manager by their cover.

Yet, when you ask the employees to describe the situation, they express a much different perspective.  They don’t experience a confident leader.  They experience what they describe as an arrogant leader.  It is that arrogance and controlling behavior that becomes the catalyst for the ongoing conflict.

Employee engagement is at critical stages in many companies. It is the managers that set the tone for employee involvement and satisfaction. The difference between a truly confident leader and the one who is arrogant makes all the difference in the workplace culture.

Employees (and leaders) that I have interviewed, tell me that the issue of leadership arrogance is one of their top daily concerns.  The employees want to be engaged and successful.  They want to be more involved.  But the risks of getting on the bad side of a bad superior are too great. Here are some of their perspectives about arrogant leaders:

“Arrogant leaders end up creating workplaces where there is no true ownership or accountability within our team.  Their posturing causes most of us to operate in fear.”

“I have ideas and would like a new challenge, but I’m afraid of what might happen in the event that something does not measure up to the leaders expectation.  If I make a mistake or fail, I become the scapegoat or I’ll be emotionally demoted while the leader aggressively takes over the problem, fixes it and doesn’t involve me in resolving the issue.  I don’t get a chance to learn in the process.”

“Arrogant leaders lead by fear which causes paralysis.”

Here are some the employees perspectives about a confident leader:

“Confident leaders create space for us to go after and own our challenges.”

“When I work under the authority of a confident leader, I end up working passionately and with more enthusiasm because I’ve been given authority to determine the course of my efforts and approach to the work.”


“Confident leaders lead in the realms of possibility and courage, which motivates me to take action and encourages momentum on our team.”

According to the Gallup study, 67% of employees who work with a leader that focuses on their strengths and encourages professional development are more engaged.  They are more confident as employees. It takes a confident leader to create and sustain that kind of environment.

With that in mind, I asked people to describe the qualities or behaviors of a confident leader.  The results of those conversations naturally brought about a comparison to leaders who failed to inspire or engage.

Here is a comparison list for you to consider.  As you notice the difference, I hope you will use this list as a tool to evaluate your own effectiveness as a leader within your organization.

The typical differences between an Arrogant Leader and a Confident Leader

ARROGANT LEADER                                           CONFIDENT LEADER

Its all about their reputation                                       Its all about the relationships

Driven by the protocol (what)                                    Directed by the purpose (why)

Talks “At” others                                                           Talks “with” others

Always right                                                                   Always learning

Demanding and controlling                                       Determined and empowering

Finds fault in others                                                    Finds favor and potential in others

Stingy                                                                             Resourceful

If generous, strings are attached                              Generous within reason

Talks more than listens                                              Listens completely, then talks

Pushes for compliance to their decisions              Collaborates for shared decisions

Brags of their successes                                             Quietly succeeds

Limits opportunity for others                                  Promotes growth

Burns bridges without remorse                               Builds bridges for reconciliation

Self-promoting                                                            Promotes others

Dismissive and harsh with feedback                      Honest in a gracious manner

Aggressive                                                                    Assertive

Prefers co-dependent followers                              Creates culture of independence/interdependence

This article and the comparison list was written by Steven Iwersen, CSP.