There aren’t too many phrases that continue to ring in people’s ears after they’ve been said, but Clint Eastwood’s catch-phrase “go ahead, make my day”, from the famous 1982 film, Dirty Harry, is certainly one of them. I imagine there’s many an individual recalling just that phrase as oil magnet Tony Hayward finally announced his resignation as CEO of industry giant, British Petroleum (BP). Now, as we well know, most folks wouldn’t normally celebrate someone else’s demise, but in this case, those “little people” as he called them, were only too happy to see this former CEO “get his life back.” 

Mr. Hayward is not the first CEO to leave his job in disgrace because of leadership missteps, nor will he be the last. Believe it or not, the reason for a CEO departure is typically not because of the economy or even a disastrous incident such as the recent oil spill. Rather, it’s all about CEO arrogance. In other words, an over-inflated sense of superiority and self-importance that becomes offensive to others.

CEOs who suffer this “disease” have come to truly believe they are icons. They thrive on being on the cover page of a magazine or newspaper and strive to be noticed at every turn. Their overconfidence blinds them to reality and while they may have been very successful at one point, their arrogance soon leads to inappropriate behaviour, and illogical responses to critical organizational issues. As well, many arrogant CEO’s overreach their maximum capability and then flame out as they fail to meet their business objectives.

Paul Croteau, Managing Partner of Legacy Bowes Group

In fact, my experience suggests that arrogance will indeed eventually kill the career of a CEO every single time. For those subordinate individuals impacted by CEO arrogance, waiting for the fall from grace might seem like forever, but when it comes, I can tell you that the fall is usually quite hard and quite public. Many a disgraced CEO will never again rise to their former level of prestige.

While there are many other CEO “derailers,” once again my experience has demonstrated that leaders who are cold, aloof and authoritarian, who isolate themselves in an ivory tower and who practice a philosophy of “me first”, will eventually lose their followers. After all, there is just no room for anyone else in the organization to experience success. All the credit goes to the arrogant CEO. 

Typically, in this type of environment, the CEO will rarely take personal responsibility. Instead he/she will minimize any damage that is caused and blame others whenever they can. As well, they will spend too much time, energy and resources on insidious efforts to destroy their competitors rather than focusing on making their own firm the best that it could be. Finally, more than likely, arrogant CEOs will find themselves feuding with other leaders and professionals in the organization as they struggle to discount the ideas of others and push their own agenda forward without debate.

Unfortunately, arrogance isn’t limited to just the CEO because over time, organizations themselves through the influence of their leaders will also adapt this arrogant stance. Their customer service philosophy becomes one of “my way or the highway” leading to a failure to acknowledge mistakes and bullying their customers.

Tony Hayward, disgraced over poorly chosen words and arrogant behavior also represents a good example of the power of global communications. A few brief words and in just one instant, his message spread across the world for everyone to see. His words, his presence and his behavior made headline news in every available communication channel. There was no way he could take back what he said, he could only face the consequences…..dismissal. And yes, he did indeed get his life back.

But remember, Tony Hayward will not be the last.

Research and review by Candace Weselowski, Legacy Bowes Group.

About Paul Croteau:

Paul Croteau is Managing Partner of Legacy Bowes Group, Manitoba’s leading Talent Management Solution. He can be reached at [email protected].

Paul is known as one of Manitoba’s leading executive search professionals. His more than 25 years of experience in the recruitment of senior management and executive leadership professionals are the foundation to his solid reputation for developing a deep understanding of his clients’ needs, enabling him to provide exceptional service and successfully meet the complex challenge of matching the right leader to his clients’ business needs.

Paul is a Certified Management Accountant (FCMA) and holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree majoring in accounting. Paul has extensive experience in all phases of executive search and has established a solid reputation in the national marketplace. Prior to joining Waterhouse Executive Search Partners, through KPMG and a local independent firm, Paul twice developed the largest and most successful executive search firms in Manitoba providing services to a variety of industries.

Paul has completed numerous executive “C” level and general management searches for a variety of organizations across all disciplines. Some of his clients include prestigious organizations such as the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba Blue Cross, Manitoba Teachers’ Retirement Allowance Fund, Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, CanWest Global Communications Corp., the Canadian Wheat Board, the Asper, Jewish and Winnipeg Foundations, Rice Financial, MGI Securities Inc., HED Insurance and Risk Services, Canadian Association of Agri-Retailers, Wildcat Exploration Ltd., The University of Winnipeg Foundation and Kraus Global Inc. 

This article initially appeared in the August 15, 2010 edition of The Winnipeg Sun.