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 ( 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.


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