Crossing The Line: Confidence vs Arrogance

A certain Hollywood bad boy (Charlie Sheen anyone?) has upped the ante in his bid to become THE poster boy of entitled arrogance. CBS finally took the hint and mothballed his show, at least for the current season.

Yes, self-confidence (think George Clooney) is a good thing. Arrogance, not so much. Take successful consultants, attorneys, advisors and the like–we have confidence burned into our DNA. It fuels us to pursue new clients (who say “no” more often than “yes”), challenge conventional thinking and avoid collusion.

But excess confidence can morph quickly into snarkiness or even outright arrogance. It has undone more than one promising career. Beware if you approach the line…

Confident: Knowing you have done thorough preparation and are fully ready for a key meeting.
Arrogant: Relying on your ability to think on your feet, you recycle an approach that worked for a previous client.

Confident: Considering your remarks carefully, scanning the room for reactions and changing course when you see a disconnect (or you’re becoming a bore).
Arrogant: Making a few off-the-cuff comments, not bothering to make eye contact with your audience, and using up all the oxygen in the room.

Confident: Treating your client as the valued person they are, without false flattery.
Arrogant: Riding roughshod over your client’s feelings or culture.

You get the picture. In Hollywood terms, channel George Clooney vs Charlie Sheen.

p.s. Special thanks to my pal Bob Greene who insisted I write about his formerly favorite TV show.


  • A fine line with seismic repercussions! Seems that another guidelines is ‘do you believe your own press about how amazing you are’, all evidence to the contrary.

  • Allison Snow

    As always, you are spot-on. I look forward to your post every Monday in my inbox. What a great way to start each week!

  • Thanks ladies–you make Mondays terrific!

  • I enjoyed the comparisons between self-confidence and arrogance but the question I pose what happens when others argue your self-confidence as arrogance. Is it their push back because they have no other means of attack? Perhaps style and tone matter. Perhaps audience matters.

  • Thank you for making the important distinction between arrogance and confidence. I’m not sure Charlie Sheen is a good example of arrogance. His television interviews aired this morning and they were sad and disturbing to say the least. I’m not a psychologist, but he sure comes across as though he has some serious mental health issues going on. Bipolar in a manic stage if the pundits are to be believed. Though it comes across to many as arrogance, there’s a lot more going on — the rants, rage, grotesque imagery, not to mention the behavior. All this raises a couple of questions that relate to Allison’s and Corey’s comments.

    First how should people give (and receive) feedback about personal behavior? Being rich and famous makes it all the harder (not easier) to get candid feedback. It is too easy for those people to lapse into “They don’t know what they’re talking about. I’m the one who is rich / famous / successful. They’re just jealous.” Plus there is the obvious problem of yes-men and other sycophants.

    Second, what is the best way to respond to people who are mentally ill, addicted, or both? I say being seen as arrogant is really the least of Charlie’s problems. i wish him well (and wellness) but my gut tells me this isn’t going to be pretty.

  • Thanks Corey and Andrew for sharing your insightful comments.

    Corey, that’s a great question and I think you answered it–style, tone and audience all matter. But one man’s self-confidence could be another’s arrogance. Perhaps we each find our “correct” audience–those to whom we appear confident?

    Andrew, as always you get right at the core. I have no doubt there is a deeper issue in the case of Charlie Sheen. But it does give us a richly layered example to discuss the issues you raise. In consulting and the advisory professions, feedback isn’t always timely, well-delivered or well-intentioned. So how can we make it easier to get good, actionable feedback? And, how can the typical layperson advisor tell the difference between arrogance and mental illness/addiction? When should they bring in the experts?

  • A timely and perennial topic. It is a subject worthy continuous self scrutiny and self awareness. My general is the older you get, the more you are aware of how little you know. And this is one of the qualities (I have observed) lacking in the young, but they have the excuse of youth. People of mature age but not mature disposition (Charlie), only have their own gullibility to thank.

    He and those like him in Hollywood have spent so long listening to their character’s popularity ratings that they mistakenly equate it to approval of their own persona. It is a sad thing when the ‘nature of the beast’ shows through and we get a real glimpse of what our public figures are REALLY like? The same applies to the rest of us as well. The ‘nature of the beast’ will always reveal itself at some time, usually in times of pressure.

    But that’s where self-awareness kicks in…or at least it should. Call me a bit harsh if you will, but I think too many people use addiction or illness as an excuse for what used to be known (in the good ol’ days) as simply unacceptable behaviour. Charlie will no doubt have to ride the torrent of disapproval and lost business before he comes to some sort of sense and SEEKS help. That’s sadly, usually the chosen route.

    Yes, he will be in denial that he is wrong. Yes, he is full of his own PR. Yes, he is wrong and everyone but him, knows it. If he is the slightest bit wise, he will seek help. Time, as they say, will tell. It always does.

  • Thank you for contributing Gary–I appreciate your thoughts. His situation gets stranger by the moment. I penned the original draft for this last Friday and posted Sunday night before the latest round of shall we say “strange” interviews. One at least hope someone wises up and removes children from his care….

  • Confident: Not worrying about whether your grounded confidence is perceived by someone else as arrogance.

    Arrogant: Not giving a damn

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