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Arrogance is not a trait that leads to success

In September 2002, Tim Montgomery was declared the world’s fastest man as he broke the record for the 100 meters in Paris. Then he was found guilty of doping. His record was stripped. A few weeks back, in pursuit of a fast buck, he pleaded guilty to money laundering.

The road to hell, they say, is paved with good intentions. An equally slippery surface is casual disregard for the rules. "Catch me?" many think, "You must be kidding!"

Recently, some pretty powerful A-list people have joined the high-and-mighty’s No. 1 disabled roster:

• Don Imus, who has long walked the borderline of acceptable radio conversation, strolled into unforgivable territory. His crude comments on the Rutgers women’s basketball team caused major sponsors to pull their ads in a nanosecond. And, in the flash that followed, MSNBC and CBS canceled his show.

• New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, former co-CEO of Goldman Sachs, became part of the pileup. Corzine was critically injured heading, ironically, to an appointment with Imus. It’s now known the governor's car was whizzing at 91 mph with lights flashing. When the collision happened, the gov wasn’t wearing a seat belt.

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• Paris Hilton’s judge tags her with 45 days in the slammer. Not for a DUI charge, serious enough business, but for violating her probation.

• The 2007 Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism went to the Wall Street Journal for its probing series into backdated stock options. The findings decomposed a slew of executive careers from being historically important to being just plain history.

In my opinion, these are all variations on the same theme: arrogance at work. By my count, more people have failed and derailed because of arrogance than any other character flaw. It’s the easiest human foible to acquire and justify.

Worse yet, it’s contagious. And it might be the banner disease to blossom in prosperity. "We’re on a roll. Aren’t we important enough to achieve some special consideration?" People think that arrogance is a prerequisite that goes along with success.

If someone patented a serum against arrogance, it could be the best-selling psycho-drug in human history. For now, the only safeguard is self-discipline. Here are some pretty basic rules:

• Get wise: The roots of arrogance are grounded in insecurity. People are greedy for attention when they feel slighted on accolades. Arrogance is also competitive in the worst way. "How can she possibly deserve all the attention she’s getting? Especially at my expense."

• Of all the traits and quirks managers run up against, I am told time and again that arrogance is the hardest to manage. Why? Successful managers want confident and aggressive players on their team. It’s a hair’s breadth separating a competent and energizing person from a smug, boastful and swaggering one.

• As with Imus, the deadliest sort of arrogance can stem from the smart remark. Every day, people want to show off their little gray cells with a cleverly turned phrase. Give yourself a refreshing pause first, and be careful before you decide to be cute.

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• There are no entitlements. Back-dating stock options is a good example. No matter what the common wisdom is in the nineteenth-hole clubhouse, some investigator or investigative reporter somewhere will get wind of a shady practice.

Much arrogance comes from a misplaced belief in a charmed life. Are you really so important that you need to risk breaking your neck to get to a meeting?

Harvey Mackay is a Minnesota businessman and author.

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