What’s the most dangerous trait a manager can have? Arrogance, I believe. Too many times in my 20-plus years as a consultant, I have observed otherwise brilliant, dedicated leaders bite the dust when hubris collided with reality.

Career-crashing conceit comes to mind this month because of an event that will live in the annals of arrogance – the Battle of the Little Bighorn in southeastern Montana.

On June 25, 1876, fearless George Armstrong Custer, generally a genius on the battlefield, mistakenly ordered an attack on what turned out to be a confederation of Plains Indians, some 2000 strong. As you know, he and his men paid for “Custer’s Last Stand” with their lives.

How was arrogance to blame?

1. Custer didn’t follow orders.
Brigadier General Alfred Terry ordered Custer to lead 600 men up the Rosebud River and cross the Little Bighorn River and wait for him there, while Terry took the main body of men up the Yellowstone River. His idea was to trap the Indians between the two groups of soldiers. But on the way, Custer came upon an Indian village. Deciding on June 25 to grab some easy glory by attacking it without Terry, he divided his men into three dispersed groups and attacked. But glory quickly turned gory; in about an hour, the 210 soldiers with Custer were dead. True to the original plan, Terry’s command arrived on the scene, by then silent and bloody, two days later.

2. He underestimated his foes.
Perhaps his “intel” was faulty.  Or perhaps Custer tripped over his own enormous ego again. In any case, his forces were annihilated by the largest single concentration of Native American warriors ever assembled on the North American continent. Also, most of the Natives were armed with repeating rifles, superior to the cavalry’s single-shot rifles. Third, dazzled by his own derring-do, Custer failed to realize that he was up against two of the greatest Native leaders of all time, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse.

3. He didn’t “play well with others.”
Why would he, when the gutsy go-getter felt superior to those above, beside, and below him?  But it’s known that some of his men in past commands resented Custer enough to plan mutiny, and many of his peers were justifiably jealous of him. Some military theorists suspect that the Little Bighorn fiasco could have been prevented, had Custer developed some professional friendships. (Can you spell “sabotage?”  Or “blind indifference?”)  May if he’d allowed others to share in some decision-making and some glory, he would have enjoyed better support.

If not for overconfident tactical decisions, could Custer and his men have survived?  Perhaps.  In such a case, the future for both the European Americans and the Native Americans (brutally crushed after this battle) would have been far different.

So observe June 25 as “Pride Goes Before a Fall” or AA (“Asinine Arrogance”) Day, and spend the day practicing your humility!

If your organization would like a keynote speech or training program on this or other topics, contact Jeanne Baer at  (402) 475-1127 or visit me on the web at http://www.cts-online.net or via email at jbaer@cts-online.net
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