Retail Career Obstacle: Excessively Ambitious and Arrogant

Retail Career Obstacle: Excessively Ambitious And Arrogant

With the New Year quickly approaching I thought I would cover some topics that are opportunities in retail as professional resolutions for 2016. The first topics I have written about are #Retail Career Obstacle: Defensiveness and #Retail Career Obstacle: Unwilling To Self-Develop. Now I want to cover another growth hurdle I have seen during my career in retail: Excessively Ambitious And Arrogant.

We have all experienced the office or field blowhard. A colleague, past or present, that constantly talks about how smart, what a savvy leader they are, how amazing they are but cannot produce real results to save their lives? We have all come across this person, probably more than one, in our careers. They are the type of person ALL talk; they will tell you that they took on a role underneath their skill level but they know they will be promoted next; from their perspective they have fully developed and could do a better job than you AND your boss. Ugh, right?!

Ambition is a great quality. It means that you are constantly striving to achieve more, learn more, become more in your professional life. It means you are open to development and guidance in your career. The challenge and off-putting nature of ambition comes in when it is combined with arrogance, which is not, generally, a positive quality. Here are some of the challenges with being identified as overly ambitious and arrogant:

-These employees believe themselves to be above their current role
-They are unwilling to identify any flaws in their performance
-They are all talk and are unable to action very little
-They quickly dismiss anyone else’s opinions or ideas
-Their knee-jerk reaction is to be defensive to any coaching, development

In the past, when I held a field leadership role, I interacted with someone who, I believe, had great potential but they were professionally managing themselves into a corner. They were certain that they were beyond coaching and development. I remember a particular conversation in which I was trying to partner with this person to develop a strategy for their lackluster metrics that they were unable to improve (their direct supervisor had thrown in the towel on this manager and asked if I could step in and try to assist). During our first conversation the store manager said to me, “Can you tell [the Director of Stores] that when the Northwest becomes a District, I am ready to be the DM? I think [their current DM] is intimidated by me, so she won’t help me.”. I explained to this manager that I was unable to champion their cause because, based on the result I see in their conversion, average dollar sale, and add-on’s – they were not ready. I explained that they had to be open to development and had to be able to action their claims and show, through results, their ability to deliver a performance at the elevated level they were seeking. In retail “You are what you do, NOT what you say you’ll do” and most savvy retail leaders can quickly assess a person’s professional aptitude.

When people showcase a healthy level of ambition they are more likely to:

-Proactively seek out development
-Share their knowledge with their team
-Share credit for results with their team
-Diligently work to deliver consistent results that exceed standards
-Support and encourage the professional development of their team
-Communicate their accomplishments humbly
-Seeks out opinions and suggestions from others
-Show appreciation for, and participates in collaboration

When we truly have done a job exceptionally well or accomplished something amazing, by all means, we should feel very good about it! Hopefully your company is one that recognizes performance and the practice is to Celebrate Your Top Performers. We all want to be acknowledged for contribution when deserved. If you want to grow and be recognized for your participation and leadership in the business make sure you, not only, are ambitious and can deliver on what you say but you:

-Are a great business partner/collaborator
-Are able to produce consistently strong results
-Are the best in every category you are measured on
-Add additional value to your job description
-Are a great active listener
-Are Humble
-Posses political savvy
-Develop strong boss & peer relationships

These are the things that will earn you the recognition you seek. Here are some great articles that can help you understand how to overcome this perception if you feel it may be an impediment to your retail career:

From AskMen: The Difference Between Being Ambitious And Being Arrogant

From The Ladders: 10 WaysTo Tell If You’re Confident or Arrogant

From BBC Capital: Ambition: Do You Need It To Succeed?

From People Equation: Arrogance at Work – How Should You Handle It?

The wonderful thing about a New Year is that we have an opportunity to make a complete change or minor tweaks in our attitude, performance, and potential and not have to do much explaining about it, other than it was a professional New Year’s Resolution. Commit to being great in 2016!


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail and 18 year retailer. I am a passionate and creative leader and coach committed to inspiring thought, action, truth-telling, solution-seeking, and dialog about how to maximize talent through identifying and creating a process around critical success factors, workplace culture, signature leadership practices, productivity, profitability, alignment of employees and company vision & values, and workplace happiness inside all retail organizations. I help create healthy, vibrant, high-performing, and highly-productive organizations that are talent magnets and focused on delivering the highest level of customer experience that will differentiate them from competition and result in long-term growth and sustainability.

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