If owners or senior managers are arrogant in their attitude towards the strategic direction of the business, it can result in insolvency or bankruptcy.
Does it matter or is it of any relevance to me and my business? Most certainly – Yes!
Businesses and other organisations (and specifically those leading them) tend towards one or other of these behavioural traits. And guess what? I have seen at close quarters examples of entrepreneurs and leaders (eg the CEO and Board members) KILLING a business, simply through arrogance. When applied to Strategy, arrogance can be terminal for the business and too often, critically and mistakenly interpreted as confidence / focus /determination and drive – all of which are usually positive behaviours.
In essence, the hallmarks of Strategic Arrogance are:
- Having little or no respect and due regard for the strategic ideas of colleagues.
- Setting strategy based on thin or non-existent empirical research or other relevant information about the market environment.
- Closing down consideration or debate of competing ideas.
- Minimal or no review of current strategies.
- Taking opportunities to denigrate others who may question or challenge the status quo and who put may forward alternative strategies.
- An unhealthy (destructive) sense of inflated ego and personal pride.
- An unhealthy level of fear, where a strategy is selected not because it is the most appropriate but that it is likely to be the ‘safest’ in terms of ensuring that the leader is unlikely to be ‘blamed’ for taking that course (eg copying strategies of other organisations rather than ‘trailblazing’ by taking a different approach).
Strategies selected to address the Covid-19 Pandemic
Before expanding further on how this can apply in business, let’s briefly consider how this may have occurred in the recent and still continuing situation that we can all relate to. Two years ago, in March 2020, national governments across the Globe were required to decide on a strategy to address a perceived, significant threat. Of course, I am talking about the virus known as SARS-COV-2 and which can cause some to develop symptoms of a disease named Covid-19. Leading up to deciding on its strategy, the UK government considered implementing the long established plan for dealing with such an outbreak, that of quarantining those that are actually sick (symptomatic) and putting measures in place to protect those at greatest risk of severe illness or death caused by or contributed to by the virus. However, just days before announcing the selected Strategy, it had an apparent change of mind and subsequently decided to follow the example of China and Italy in implementing ‘Lockdown’ restrictions and other measures applied to whole populations (not simply to those that were sick and / or potentially and particularly vulnerable). It decided on a strategy that the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised should only to be used as a short-term measure, to buy time to implement other health actions, the WHO clearly stating that lockdowns and other restrictions on their own do not save lives but may only postpone / delay deaths (that will eventually occur). The WHO also warned that applying lockdowns and other restrictions to whole populations would risk increasing poverty through economic and employment impacts and also causing other, negative, health impacts (to mental health and other medium and longer-term physical impacts). Despite this warning, the UK government and virtually all other national governments went ahead with compulsory measures, in the end applying them not just for a few weeks, but for months and most several times over (to combat each infection ‘wave’). Further, under significant pressure from the Main Stream Media and by Opinion Polls and despite the virus being officially downgraded on 19th March 2020 to no longer be considered a high consequence infectious disease, it followed the path already taken by several other governments. Perhaps out of fear of being the ‘odd one out’, to be a target for ridicule and later blame (if deaths were to reach the modelled levels), the apparent security and potential defence of just simply following the crowd (groupthink) was more appealing than being a trailblazer. The Strategy was decided upon: Restrictions to keep us all safe until effective (and also safe!) vaccines (hopefully) could be developed and implemented. We were promised that they, the Government, would ‘follow the science’ – an apparent nod to being open to change direction as and when ‘the science’ might warrant it.
De-platforming of ‘different voices’ – removing challenge and open debate
Regrettably, scientific and medical voices that challenged the thinking, pointing to what was actually occurring and the evidence seen in the data, were systematically silenced, giving the impression of a consensus amongst senior scientists. So, the Government was largely surrounded by ‘nodding dogs’, failing to sufficiently challenge, many compromised through conflicts of interest, worries of being ostracised or worse, their employment terminated and careers jeopardised. Further, the broadcast media were threatened by the Regulator, OfCom, that they would be subject to action if in the content of their programmes they did not take due care not to undermine public compliance with Government restrictions etc. This largely kept dissenting voices off the TV and unable to reach the large section of the public that still gets its information that way.
So what does the data and other evidence* tell us actually happened?
Within a few weeks, many analysts monitoring real world data started to question the ‘models’ of infections, illness and deaths upon which the Government stated it had based its Strategy, noting that actual numbers were multiple times less than those modelled. Sweden was put up as an almost lone example of a country that had decided to buck the trend and take the traditional approach to a Pandemic outbreak, avoiding mandatory measures and allowing much ‘normal’ business and social activity to continue – and with no consequences worse than in the UK (with some measures actually coming out better). Later, a small number of US States (such as Florida, Texas and North Dakota) further debunked the claimed necessity for lockdowns and other mandatory measures to attempt to ‘control’ the virus – with again no worse and actually better outcomes than most of the ‘Locked-down’ US States. When the same model, cited by the UK Government as central to its thinking and to its choice of strategy (that of Professor Neil Ferguson and his Imperial College, London Team) was applied to Sweden, it indicated that it should have had multiple times more deaths than were actually occurring. So once this could be observed (by early summer 2020) why did the UK Government not go back to the basis for its chosen Strategy? If it did, why did it stick with it? It wasn’t as though no one or simply ‘misinformers’ were highlighting the mismatch of the modelling to what was actually happening. Evidence-based scientists and medical professors in the UK (such as Carl Heneghan of Oxford University) and several leading US professors (including from, for example, Harvard and Stanford universities), urged review in the light of the growing data evidence with the actual data also calling into serious question the need for taking the very significant risk of mass use of hastily developed vaccines without medium and long-term trial data to underpin safety judgements. Contrary to Parliamentary Policy and due process, measures continued to be extended by Parliamentary vote, without accompanying Impact Assessments (therefore without taking into account, by informed weighing up of quantified harms against the modelled and now arguable benefits). Regrettably for the UK and many other nations, the economic harms due to the measures taken are now clearly being felt, as well as other health indicators showing cause for genuine concern, such as growing hospital waiting lists and as yet not fully understood increases in numbers of those who are ill or have died from causes other than Covid-19.
Review and revision is critical
It is not central whether or not you accept the analysis I have presented above. The point I wanted to make is that when a leader or group of leaders decide on a strategy, perhaps based on the best available information, down the road it is then absolutely vital that there is on-going, timely and open review and, if appropriate, a revision of the Strategy. There again, from the very beginning, the selected strategy may simply have been the leader’s own ‘brilliant’ (tongue in cheek!) idea and with no sound empirical basis at all or perhaps based on fundamentally flawed modelling!
Strategic Arrogance KILLS businesses – an example
Regrettably, I have seen businesses, particularly where a new CEO and / or Board members are introduced, that have suffered to the point of extinction, due to the Strategic Arrogance of the newcomers. I recall one where the ‘new brooms’ persuaded the Board that the business needed to ‘modernise’ – new logo and branding, website, bringing in some ‘big hitters’ (ex. large, leading firms) – to create a bigger, more impressive ‘image’. In effect, what they achieved was to shift the positioning of the organisation to look more like the market leader (even with a similar colour scheme!). It was certainly more ‘impressive’, but did it increase its sales and profitability? Time quickly told. The Outcome: No or modest annual increases in revenue but a significant increase in costs (to create and maintain the change in ‘image’). The Strategy remained for more than five years, during which the firm’s office building was sold to finance running costs and then fully spent until there was nothing left in the kitty.
So why and how did that happen?
- My observation was that this was largely due to Strategic Arrogance.
- Those that came in wanted to ‘make their mark’ – changing things to achieve this.
- They decided on an approach that they knew and felt comfortable with (along the lines of – ‘it’s what the market leader does, so works for them and if it doesn’t work for us then it will be because the staff didn’t do things right!).
- The newcomers were fairly forceful characters and perhaps the other Board members may have been a little in awe.
- They appeared to remain convinced that their selected Strategy would work – eventually (despite mounting evidence to the contrary).
I still find it difficult to comprehend that after no more than a couple of years they did not face up to reality and admit that the Strategy was failing and change approach to reflect what the market environment may have actually wanted and would respond to, drawing on and open to the ideas of others in or supporting the organisation. That would have been Strategic Humility – critical to the health of living, breathing organisations.
So here’s a quick health-check:
- In my organisation, is strategy based on sound market information?
- Is it reviewed regularly and adjusted in the light of changes in the operating environment?
- Are the leaders properly accountable and open to challenge?
- Do they invite and welcome input to strategy from colleagues, even accepting that the ideas of others trump their own – displaying genuine humility?
These are some of the hallmarks of living, breathing organisations – Strategic Humility – an antidote to Strategic Arrogance that can KILL a business – your business!
* Suggested further reading of data and scientific evidence challenging the Strategy selected to address Covid-19:
HART – a group of highly qualified UK doctors, scientists, economists, psychologists and other academic experts – https://www.hartgroup.org/covid-19-evidence/
Collateral Global – a UK registered Charity dedicated to researching, understanding, and communicating the effectiveness and collateral impacts of the Mandated Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (MNPIs) taken by governments worldwide in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – https://collateralglobal.org
The Daily Sceptic – an evidence-based website founded by Toby Young, free-speech activist and leading independent journalist, with articles regularly published in the Mail, Telegraph and The Spectator – https://dailysceptic.org/covid-19-just-the-facts/
Malcolm H Trotter, March 2022
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