Visibility vs. Arrogance: Striking the Right Balance in Leadership

As a woman leader, do you even worry about being or appearing arrogant? If you do, you're not alone. Let's dissect the meanings of arrogance, confidence, and visibility so you are more comfortable claiming your power.

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Visibility vs. Arrogance: Striking the Right Balance in Leadership


It’s a word that makes most women leaders cringe.

We never want to appear arrogant, and sometimes that fear causes us to err on the side of caution.

And the fear is real. We are often taught that women are supposed to be modest and ladylike.

Women can be punished, ridiculed, or chastised for being too loud, too aggressive, and “too much”.

It doesn’t seem to take much to be called arrogant.

So, we hide. We’re modest.

We downplay our accomplishments. We don’t seek the limelight. We don’t raise our hands.

And we avoid “too much” visibility.

Even though our male counterparts (or many of them) are doing the opposite.

Does that mean that they’re arrogant? Usually not. Yet, women can be judged as arrogant even when we are merely confident.

But visibility is important for a leader. Visibility is vital for making an impact. Visibility is critical to get (and keep) the roles that will allow you to drive change.

Let’s back up for a minute and take a look at some definitions from Merriam-Webster (yes, one of my favorite things to do):

Arrogance: an attitude of superiority manifested in an overbearing manner or with presumptuous claims or assumptions

Confidence: a feeling or consciousness of one’s powers; the quality or state of being certain. (Check out my article about certainty for more detail on this.)

Visibility: the state of being seen, well-known, conspicuous.

The key word in the definition of arrogance is superiority. Arrogance implies that one feels “more than” others: more intelligent, more competent, more everything. There’s also the implication of being “more powerful” or that one has power over others in the word arrogance.

Yes, arrogant people want to be well-known and conspicuous and often go to great lengths to achieve that. No doubt about it

But that doesn’t mean that all attempts to obtain visibility are arrogant.

Nor is confidence arrogance.

Confidence inspires, while arrogance intimidates. As leaders, it’s crucial to understand the distinction and lead with humility and authenticity.

And humility is often where we get tripped up.

Even Merriam-Webster includes the phrase “not arrogant or assertive” when defining the word humble.

I’m going to have to disagree with their editors!!

Even the most humble people in the history of the planet were assertive about what was important to them and what they had to offer.

Think about Mother Theresa or Mahatma Gandhi or Abraham Lincoln.

Were they humble? You bet. They were not proud or haughty or arrogant.

But were they assertive? Of course, they were. Mother Theresa was assertive about her call to serve the needy in India. Gandhi was assertive about Indian independence. Lincoln was assertive in his desire to keep the union together and end slavery.

Ladies, let’s end this myth that you can’t be assertive and humble right here and right now!

Assertiveness claims the expertise that is rightfully ours.

Assertiveness adds our knowledge and wisdom to the conversation.

Assertiveness allows us to be visible leaders and inspiring examples for others.

Assertiveness mixed with humility claims our own accomplishments AND celebrates the accomplishments and contributions of others.

It’s not arrogant to raise your hand. It’s doing yourself, your organization, and perhaps even the world a disservice.

It is arrogant not to listen, to dismiss others’ opinions, to speak over others or not allow them to speak.

But you aren’t going to do that, are you?

No, as a woman leader, you are going to use your voice to champion others. Am I right? (Not to imply that men don’t champion others.)

Yes, visibility requires self-promotion. Yes, visibility means raising your hand and your voice. Visibility requires self-confidence.

But visibility can also include humility, compassion, and empathy.

Confidence without compassion is arrogance; true leaders balance confidence with humility, empathy, and collaboration to drive meaningful change and inspire others.

Ready to drive meaningful change?

You’ll need visibility to do it.

So, what’s one way you can increase your visibility this week? I’d love to hear about it.

I’m Karen Ann Bulluck, and if you’d like to learn more about me and my philosophy on women’s leadership, I invite you to watch my free masterclass.

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