I have been struck over many years, both in private corporate interactions and public pronouncements, how much arrogance some people show, and how often it has nothing to do with competence. I was reminded of this today in the pronouncements of David Cameron in respect of the UK election (see here). I do not often lean towards political debate, not because I don’t think it is important per se, but because I think there is little to pick between the various alternatives in the UK.
But, the words used by David Cameron are quite stark in their self-inflated aggrandisement. I admit to already being a little irked by the poster campaign that declared “We can’t go on like this. I’ll cut the deficit, not the NHS”. Last time I checked one of the reasons that we ran the deficit before the recession that we did was due to Labour spending on the NHS which makes me a little confused about what ‘going on like this’ actually is. But, much more irritatingly, he is saying what he won’t do, not what he will do. This is easy and disingenuous – so much more honest to say what you would cut … but the Conservatives know that the psychology of folks will then associate them with the cuts. Sadly, they are right in knowing this, but I am sure that the majority of people will then see this as nothing more than window dressing which made the whole campaign ultimately pointless – I am left wondering what the thinking was that made this a good plan.
Anyway, that is merely context. David now says “It is an election we have a patriotic duty to win because this country is in a complete and utter mess, and we have to sort it out.“. The arrogance is truly breathtaking. It is clearly correct to say that UK faces some pretty serious challenges, and I have to say that when Gordon Brown declared there to be no more boom and bust he showed only his own arrogance, and the paucity of his thinking. But, the UK is far from alone in having challenges. Indeed, though the challenges vary in some respects, every similar country has similar issues. So, it is pretty obvious by inspection that the UK and by inference its government hasn’t done anything amazing (good or bad) to make it stand out either in the way that it got into the current challenges or in navigating the choppy waters since then. Nor has anyone else, though some have been a bit better than others. So, what is it that makes David Cameron think he will make all other politicians worldwide bow down at the alter of his and his parties astonishingly insightful grasp of the challenges, and it’s amazing ability to effect change that makes the UK stand out? Could it be that he has the certain knowledge that he and his party have the huge (though obviously latent) talent to pull it off. Or, could it be just arrogance, backed up by nothing more than the normal mental biases we are all prone to that make us take credit for our perceived successes and astute observations and find external reasons for our less great moments or things we didn’t see?
“In the four-and-a-half years that I’ve been doing this job, every day that goes by I feel more confident that I have, with this team behind me, got what it takes to turn this country around… That’s what we badly need to do.”. Yes mate. That’s what mental biases look like. Or, you could be right … but if you are then why not get an external view that has less obvious feel of a Christine Keeler-esque ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’? Or look to persuade people with content, not egostistial platitudes. And, if you have some ‘secret sauce’ that will make a huge difference, and you really care about the country not yourself, then work across the benches now to make a difference. Give the ideas away, and don’t worry about who gets the credit if it makes the difference.
There was more vacuous puff from Mr. Cameron, and it all grates .. but that wasn’t the reason for this post. I have seen plenty of humble folks who had much to be humble about (as I think Churchill rather devastatingly said about a politician once). But, I have seen some of the most effective people also be those who were considered in what they know, and what their capabilities are. This post was to note that what I have never seen in business or public life is a single example of someone who was as arrogant as David Cameron was today, who proved to be as good as they were in their own mind. I would so much rather that competence and respect was demonstrated, not claimed. I am sure I am not alone. Why do people do it?