Of all of my business leadership columns, this one will always be my favorite. It ran in three newspapers during my career. The last was as a column in my “Minding Your Own Business” columns for The Lebanon Democrat. i liked it even more when JB Leftwich praised it for being an excellent column.
Bugs Bunny’s Real Problem
Several thousand years ago, Aesop created the fable “The Hare and the Tortoise,” probably the most well known fable of them all.
Aesop made a star out of Bugs Bunny.
In an early Bugs cartoon, the fable was told with Bugs as the hare. He is undone by overconfidence and underestimating the ability of his competition. He loses the race to the tortoise.
Bugs acquired a new agent after that cartoon, and now he always wins over the likes of Elmer Fudd, Yosemite Sam, Daffy Duck, the Tasmanian Devil, and a whole host of other bumbling, though lovable doofuses.
My father at 96, occasionally still watches and enjoys Bugs’ cartoons. My daughter, at 21, puts Bugs right at the top of her “to-watch” list. My grandson at three received a “Looney Tunes” DVD for Christmas and loves Bugs and all of his buddies. And I, somewhere in amongst the three of them, am among Bugs’ greatest fans.
Bugs, after the agent change somewhere back in the ’30’s or ’40’s, succeeds in his cartoon quests in large part because of his confidence, which is also embodied in successful people in the business world. Confidence in being right gives Bugs the power to uneven the playing field, to change the rules to his advantage. But, as we learned in that old, scratchy rerun of Aesop’s tale, there is a thin line between confidence and arrogance.
As a facilitator in Leadership Excellence while in the Navy and later as a consultant in Organization Improvement, I have studied traits, behaviors and attitudes of successful business people: bosses, managers, leaders. I have discussed principles, which delineate between successful businesses and those that are not successful. I have discussed the difference between success and failure at length with many associates, colleagues and friends. The discussions always generate high energy. Success and failure come in many packages, but I have never met a successful leader of any organization who did not exude confidence, confidence he or she is right
Confidence or Arrogance
One can be successful even crossing the line between confidence and arrogance. In assessing the long line of bosses I have observed, worked with, worked for, or provided services to, a number were arrogant. That is to say, I could not tell them anything because either it was something they claimed they already knew or considered it bad information. Yet they succeeded because they believed they were on the right track and stuck to it. In the short run, it gave them post-tortoise Bugs’ power.
When a boss crosses the line from confidence to arrogance, it may not affect the success of his or her business in the short run. Yet it could be disastrous immediately and the probability for dysfunction is even greater for the long haul. Arrogance inserts an imbalance into the equation. Arrogance has no tolerance for listening to other possibilities of right answers. Unlike confidence, arrogance is blind and deaf.
Nearly every comment I have heard or read about Ray Kroc has been high praise. Ray’s success can be attributed to many factors. The empire which has become MacDonald’s is a complicated, sophisticated, and overwhelming success, rising from the confident leadership of Ray Kroc.
Ray’s confidence was legendary. He preached his mantra, “Quality, Service, Cleanliness, Value,” with the assurance of being absolutely correct. There is no question his confidence was a major, if not the primary factor in his success. Ray Kroc possessed Bugs’ kind of confidence. He was not often, if ever arrogant.
Bugs learned a lot from the tortoise (and perhaps the tortoise’s agent). He now assesses his competition and the situation before confidently entering the event du jour. When he is arrogant, he stumbles, but being Bugs and a cartoon character at that, he pulls through and always wins.
For me and the rest of you business leaders, owners, and managers out there, the connection is clear. Avoid arrogance: get as much information as you can about the situation and the competition. Then, move forward with confidence.
The next time you relax for a bit of television and settle back to watch Bugs take on another adversary, remember Bugs rose to fame because he learned the difference between confidence and arrogance.
“That’s all, folks.”