#537  Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 9          September 2001

Arrogance Leads to Disaster
by Wolf J. Rinke, PhD, CSP

Dr. Rinke (www.WolfRinke.com) is a keynote speaker, seminar leader, management consultant, executive coach and author of 12 books including Winning Management:  6 Fail-Safe Strategies for Building High-Performance Organizations (Achievement Publishers, Clarksville, MD, 1997).

Recently Marcela, my wife, and I were car shopping. It was time to replace Marcela's 1984 Mercedes Benz Diesel. To get ourselves familiar with the current offerings, we stopped by the local Chrysler dealer to look at the "hot" PT Cruiser. They had two on the lot, which was very exciting because the other dealers that we had visited had only pictures. First thing that happened, we were totally ignored while browsing on the lot. (It never fails to amaze me how little excellent customer service there is, especially in the auto retail business.)

Being unable to get into the car, we walked into the show room. The "let's pretend we are too busy game" continued. So we walked up to the first sales desk which was occupied by a salesman doing - you guessed it - absolutely nothing! "We'd like to look at the PT Cruiser," I said. "They are right out there," the not-so-friendly salesman said pointing to the cars in front of the showroom. We told him that we had seen the cars, but would like to test drive one, or at least sit in one. "I can't let you do that," he said, puffing-up his chest in an arrogant manner. Incredulous I asked why. "They are waiting to be picked up by customers," he answered. When we said that it did not have to be those, any PT Cruiser would do. He said, in a "Hey I'm doing you a big favor manner," "I don't have any. You can put your name on this list. There are about 150 people ahead of you, and when it is your turn, we'll let you know." When we explained that we were not interested to order a car, all we wanted to do is sit in one and possibly test drive it, he told us that he could not help us. (Yes, you read correctly!)


About the same time I saw, in a Boston Globe article, something that related to this experience. Leaders at Nokia told Lester Thurow (professor of management and economics at MIT) the 10 reasons they dominate the cellular telephone market. Number one on the list was speed, but that's not uncommon these days. Number six was humbleness and ten was luck. Thurow writes, "Humbleness means that no matter how good you are, you recognize that you have a long way to go before you're really good and that you recognize that no matter how good you are, a lot of your success is traceable to good luck. Arrogance - 'We make no mistakes' and 'We're on top because we are good' - is the opposite of humbleness and always leads to disaster. And in the late 1980s, no one was more arrogant about their quality control than the Japanese.Ē

Thurow looked at the Bridgestone-Firestone tragedy, Mitsubishi's covering up auto defects for years, and the milk company, Snow Brand, poisoning people by recycling returned milk, as examples. Thurow says, "Arrogance does not just make you sloppy. It also means when you find a mistake you can't admit it."

When's the last time you saw humbleness or luck listed as major reasons why a company was successful? Thurow believes that humbleness is the most important of Nokia's core values, since it is the antidote to the sin of arrogance.

Humbleness has obviously not been taught to the Chrysler distributors we dealt with. They got a "hot car" with temporary high demand that has led the sales staff at this dealership to be arrogant - more interested to puff out their chest, instead of finding out what other cars we might be interested to look at. (According to Carl Sewell of Sewell Cadillac every car customer has a sales potential of - are you ready for this - $332,000.) Now whether the lack of humbleness of this one dealership has anything to do with the dramatic downturn of Chrysler's stock in recent months I certainly don't know nor claim. However letís put it this way, Marcela and I walked out of the Chrysler showroom less than happy and with a commitment that we would never buy a Chrysler no matter how good their cars. With it, we took $332,000 of potential sales next door to the Toyota dealer where we were treated like "customers." (WOW, what a shock!) And since research tells us that people have a habit of spreading bad customer service stories to an average of 11 other people - obviously I'm much more prolific - you don't have to be a mathematician to figure out the negative impact on that Chrysler dealer's bottom line.

Now before you get too comfortable claiming righteous indignation, let's talk about YOU, your teams and your employees, especially if you are prospering in this "new economy." Do all of you consume ample portions of "humble pie" on an on-going basis? And is that reflected in the way your customers (that includes your employees) are being treated? If not, you will prove Thurow correct because "arrogance ... always leads to disaster."

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