Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Anyone for Hubris?

I have been reading David Owen's fascinating and terrifying book about hubris. It hits pretty close to home to many of us who have worked in creative businesses.

Dr Owen, a British politician and medical doctor, tells that the Greeks developed the notion of a hubristic act: one in which a powerful figure, puffed up with overweening pride and self-confidence, treated others with insolence and contempt. They seem to get kicks from using their power to treat others in this way. Plato told us that the young and the wealthy are given to insulting people because it make them feel superior. Philosopher David Cooper describes it as "an "up yours!" attitude."

Owen says hubris is an occupational hazard for leading politicians and businessmen. It feeds on the isolation that often builds up around them. The point is often reached when they are no longer living in the same world as the organization they lead. (Anyone you work with come to mind?)

Leaders do need to show decisiveness rather than hesitation, doubt and vacillation; but that leadership needs to carry trust, and this is usually lost when the leader crosses that borderline between decisive and hubristic leadership.
And without trust the ship will sink.

Ever come across anything like this in your work? How did you deal with it? By the way according to Owen, it turns out that hubris is very often exacerbated by some other disease or by medications taken for other reasons.

He tells us "it may be that hubristic syndrome never has a medical cure, but it is becoming even clearer that as much or even more than conventional illness, it is a great menace to the quality of leadership."

1 comment:

dr droock said...

My take is that much of the activity that can be captured with hubris, can also be captured by "Don't act like an asshole."

Luckily, Robert Sutton, PH D at Stanford has liberated "asshole" so that it can be used in professional conversation.

Here's the link to Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/Asshole-Rule-Civilized-Workplace-Surviving/dp/0446526568