Surgeons are Arrogant Bastards. Be a Surgeon.

Surgeons are Arrogant Bastards. Be a Surgeon.

I’ve known a few surgeons as neighbors or socially and a few who put me to sleep and dug inside my body. They can be nice enough neighbors, tend to live in very nice homes with nice families, and seem to be living quite comfortably. On the other hand, they also tend to be arrogant bastards. They seem to have weak bedside manner skills. They are in a hurry, bark out orders to you and the nurses, and breeze out of your room. The only time they seem to care is while you are asleep and hopefully, you don’t see that.

Reactions to Arrogance

When you first meet a surgeon who is going to operate on you, you might think, “What an ass! I don’t want them cutting on me.” Let me suggest your thinking is backward. You actually DO want the most arrogant bastard of a surgeon working on you. Why? Because this arrogance is born from their massive ego where they know they are the absolute best at what they do. Their craft leaves little to no room for error, mistake, or even slight misstep. Their skill is on display to the entire operating room and as an old comedian used to say, the last thing you want to hear your surgeon say is “Oops!”

High Competency can Breed Arrogance

That level of confidence adds to their competency. For any surgery, you only want the best cutting into you. If the surgeon shows ANY self-doubt, (or drug use, or personal stress, or any distraction whatsoever) the last thing you want is them operating on you.

Like a surgeon, you should seek your highest level of competence. It’s good to be outstanding in whatever field you have pursued.

There is a point, however, that confidence can slide over to arrogance or narcissism. The sustained leader guards against this. The best combination is to have the competence and skill ALONG WITH compassion, character, and humility NOT to become the arrogant ass on the team whether or not you hold the leadership role. Too many who currently hold leadership positions are not leaders because they ignore the second part of that equation.

Sustained Leadership WBS 

For students of sustained leadership, read about arrogance in 5.2.6. Then turn to 1.3.3 and read all the subsections under Humility. Competence is not just good, it is imperative. Confidence is also good. High confidence is great. Just don’t let it migrate into arrogance and destroy whatever humility you have.

Leadership Selection is Broken

Too often, we seem to promote people into leadership positions who are not truly qualified. That would include the arrogant, the narcissistic, and those who do not understand the concept of compassion. They can “hit the numbers” only at a significant long-term cost to the team.

On the other hand, an excess of compassion can impede the difficult decisions that leaders must make. Sustained Leadership WBS notes this in element 5.2.14 where an imbalance in the positive traits is, in itself, a significant negative.

The Best Possible Version of You

What you do might not be life or death as a surgeon. You should still have the same attitude about yourself. Are you the best? What must you do to be the best? Have you examined yourself honestly (1.3.3.1)? Are you well balanced among character, competence, compassion, communication, and commitment, while hitting the marks on the Essential Leadership Journey Checkpoints? Have you eliminated, or are you at least working on, those things that might be fatal flaws to your leadership journey? These are tough questions. They are necessary in order for you to become a leader who can sustain the position.

Work hard to have the utmost confidence in your own abilities. Just don’t become an arrogant bastard.

This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section 5.2.6 Arrogance and 1.3.3 Humility. Buy the book here. eBook Print

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With an extensive career in government contracting, Tom has found many examples, both good and bad, of leadership. These posts are based on his latest book, Sustained Leadership WBS, published by Morgan James. Tom is available to speak to your team on the importance of developing sustained leaders.

1 Comment

  1. barbra white 2 months ago

    I have found this to be the case with orthopedic surgeons or neurosurgeons. Having a company that helped executives become leaders, I can attest that this group generally has an inflated opinion of themselves. I had a surgeon who clipped my spine’s dura when I had a laminectomy. He released me from the hospital even though I complained of a severe headache and neck pain. Two days later, I called his office when another one of my doctors(anesthesiologist) suggested he may have clipped the dura. An epidural patch is a simple solution to this problem. I called and he called the neurosurgeon. I finally received a call back at the end of the day from one of his assistants who told me the doctor (neurosurgeon) did not make a mistake. Now you must find another solution no matter how bad you feel because your doctor has abandoned you. I called the PCP how did the presurgical exam. He had me come in and arranged for another doctor to do the epidural patch. It was six days after I had left the hospital, I finally had this done. My ex-partner who was a lawyer and married one both agreed I should have sued him. I probably won’t as I do not want to spend the next couple of years with his legal team tearing me apart because their self-absorbed client messed up. I was able to talk to the hospital board of directors to make sure he never performed back surgery at a small regional hospital. I was not told until I was being wheeled in for surgery that I was also going to have thoracic surgery. I operation was for a simple spinal cord stimulator. Small hospitals do not have the equipment, etc to handle surgery like this if something goes wrong.
    Earlier that year, I visited another Hard trained doctor who specialized in pain management. He advised me a year before this to get the spinal cord stimulator surgery. There are steps required of every patient such as imaging and a psych review (for realistic expectations). This doctor obviously did not have my file in front of him. When I suggested we proceed with the spinal cord stimulator, he said he would not do this. When I told him he was the one who suggested this, he became belligerent and offensive. He was trying to somehow place blame on me. I looked at him and said, “Your arrogance will betray you It always does. Perhaps you should read about Arthur Anderson and Enron tonight. I am going to leave now, so you may have time to do this.”
    These are two examples of doctors whose behavior was abhorrent. Yes, they need better communication but maybe they simply need to be a better human being.

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