Charges of arrogance have been heatedly lobbed at high-powered bankers over the past few years. Traders, who seemingly convinced of their infallibility, have made unauthorised trades that resulted in massive losses for their firms (see: Bruno Iksil and Kweku Adoboli).
Corporate conceit, however, seems to be a particular affliction of those high up the banking food chain. Bob Diamond, the former Barclays CEO, has been accused of being egoistic – as well as charismatic. Prior to his recent resignation over the Libor scandal, he memorably told the UK Parliament that the time for banker remorse is over. Another prolific figure, Jon Corzine, former CEO of bankrupt MF Global, was also reportedly arrogant.
The road to becoming insufferable
Daniel Koh, psychologist, Insights Mind Centre, says bankers may start their careers being people-oriented and grounded because they work in teams. However, that behaviour may change as they rise up the ranks. “When someone is at the top and has power, they believe that no one else can do their job. They have the self assurance that nobody can touch them, control them or check them. Instead of being people-oriented, numbers, profits and personal gain become the only focus.”
Paul Heng, founder and executive coach, NeXT Corporate Coaching Services, adds that success can inflate one’s ego, which can lead to a false belief of infallibility. Generous executive compensation doesn’t help either. “Money is the root of most evils; this has proven to be the case for many successful individuals. If not greed, then the desire for more earthly needs: more houses, more high-end cars, designer watches and bodily pleasures.”
Arrogance prevention 101
1) Self awareness
Heng says: “Sometimes people know they are headed towards a dangerous direction, but they don’t have the self-control and/or discipline to pause and choose another path.” Being mindful and conducting regular self-examinations can help.
2) Get perspective (from others)
It can be hard to keep yourself in check. That’s when speaking to a coach, a loved one, a trusted colleague or friend can help curb bad behaviour, adds Heng.
3) Know your people
Koh reckons staying people-oriented towards staff and clients can help senior bankers stay grounded. “This helps them know what is happening, which will hopefully help with decision making.”
4) Don’t be a jerk
Stay professional, not personal, when interacting with staff. “Engagement should be done at both the individual and group level, so that there is understanding from both sides,” says Koh.
Don’t morph into a different (and ruder) person either. Heng says: “Communication styles should not change drastically. Just because you’ve helped your firm earn an additional billion dollars, doesn’t entitle you to put your legs up on the table when speaking to others.”
5) People who dispute your ideas aren’t evil
Koh says bosses should seek to understand why their employees are challenging them, so that the issue can be appropriately dealt with. “Avoid using authority and power; one has to remember that you do need support in this completive environment.” Heng adds: “If the challenges are positively motivated, they should be welcomed with open arms.”
Lastly, remember this: CEOs and leaders are symbolic of what an organisation stands for. “We now have a perception, rightly or wrongly, of what Barclays is all about via Diamond’s recent behaviour, ditto for other firms. In the worst-case scenario a bad leader could cause the entire organisation to disappear from the face of the earth,” says Heng.