Saturday, August 10, 2013

What Do the Worst Leaders Have in Common? An Abundance of the H-Word

I’m talking about “hubris,” folks.

There’s been a lot written about how the self-esteem movement has made narcissists of so many of us, and while not everyone agrees that the problem is as widespread as some say, it kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

Come on, you know someone (or several someones) whose egos are out to here (insert wide arm span), don’t you?

I sure do.

And when that someone is in leadership, well … let’s just say that those positioned to follow often can have a hard time of it.

In How the Mighty Fall, author Jim Collins discusses hubris and the role it plays in an organization’s failure. (By the way, if you haven’t read this book, I highly recommend it. It’s a quick read, and it’s good.)

Hubris, Collins tells us, prevents a leader from believing that he could faildespite all signs to the contraryand blinds him to the involvement of luck, or serendipity, or fate, or God, or whatever you want to call it, in the leader’s success. Instead, this leader believes all his good fortune is about him and his talents. As crazy as that sounds.

Under the spell of hubris, a leader can adopt the worldview that he is always right and others are never right. (Okay—others are never as right about anything that counts.) Hubris stops a leader from admitting that she could benefit from someone else’s experience or viewpoint.

And while it’s so darn obvious that no one, no matter how talented, brilliant, or charismatic has perfect vision, some leaders insist on behaving as though they do.

It’s really too bad. Humility, the antithesis of hubris, keeps a person grounded. Humility is what allows someone to listen when wisdom is being spoken, see truth as it reveals itself, and act with integrity and without regard to saving one's face.

So if you want to be a rotten leader, I mean the absolute worst of the lot, each day swallow a big old heaping dose of hubris and then be sure and surround yourself with people who’ll continuously feed you more by telling you how wonderful you are, no dissent allowed.

In no time flat, you'll have completely forgotten the meaning of the word "gratitude," declare yourself thrilled with yourself, and be on track to become a puffed-up, obnoxious, self-deluded jerk who nonetheless has plenty of adoring "yes" fans. And really, that's all that counts, right?

You wish.


  1. Being humble puts you on the long road to accomplishment, while Hubris is the consistent road block.

    1. I think you're right Kamal. Hubris can be a huge blindspot.

  2. ...and those rare few humble leaders shine light a lighthouse through a storm!

  3. WHY are there so few good managers/leaders. Its so disheartening!! I have had the worst of the worst. I have learned how NOT to manage/treat people however.

    1. Hey Anon:

      I agree, it's very disheartening. Here's my theory (or one theory, anyway).