Every once in a while Steve Woodruff and I choose a topic for Leadership Chat, which takes place every Tuesday evening at 8:00 pm Eastern Time on Twitter and has grown dramatically over the past few months, that is based on recent, real-world events.
Such is the case this week as we tackle, “Hubris and Accountability: Avoiding Leader Self-Destruction.”
We’re all familiar with the alleged wrongdoings of Mr. Schwarzenegger, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, Mr. Spitzer and others like them. What I’m more interested in focusing on is the second part of this week’s Leadership Chat title – the questions of what causes, and how to avoid, such hubris and self-destruction in the first place.
The definition of hubris according to the World English Dictionary is:
1. pride or arrogance
2. (in Greek tragedy) an excess of ambition, pride, etc, ultimately causing the transgressor’s ruin
Dictionary.com goes on to say it’s from the Greek hybris, originally “presumption toward the gods.”
What’s most striking for me when reading the definitions above are the words originating from the Greek “hybris”… “presumption toward the gods.”
It’s perhaps because the words, “arrogant” and “prideful” are used so often in society today, but don’t always lead to one’s tragic ruin, that the words “presumption toward the gods” left me with a much clearer picture.
The Picture Itself
From these words I envision:
- Fallible humans who do not see themselves as such
- Unwarranted courage
- Brazen condescension
Where does this stem from? My hypothesis: from having power over others or extreme and undue influence.
What Kind of Leaders Do You Wish to Follow?
Thus, herein lays the problem. Many leaders who run organizations have power over others and influence over many more. The decisions they make on a daily basis can change the entire direction of their employees’ and stakeholders’ lives.
Yet, I believe the vast majority of leaders lead from a place of humility rather than hubris. Which would you prefer to follow? Might it depend on the situation?
Hubris vs. Boldness and Courage
I think it’s important to differentiate between hubris and the ability to be bold and courageous in the face of great challenges. We need bold courage from those who will lead the rebuilding of Joplin, Missouri and from those who will help us to honestly approach the issue of debt in this country.
And when we celebrate Memorial Day, we honor every ounce of boldness and courage demonstrated by those who fought for our independence and the preservation of our republic.
Hubris, I believe, is something entirely different.
Leadership and Healthy Power
So, how can a leader with tremendous power and influence prevent tragic self-destruction? I believe it starts with the following…
- Focus on the divine power within you intended for good rather than your external power over others
- Have a personal vision for your life and your career that keeps you focused and on-course
- Know your values. When you sense you’re moving away from them take the time needed to understand why, and to reconnect with who you are and what you’re really needing
- Study and seek to understand the lives and principles of leadership role models like Abraham Lincoln
What would you add to this list? And what do you believe causes leadership hubris and self-destruction? Please share in the comments.
Please join my Leadership Chat co-host Steve Woodruff and me tonight as we discuss, “Hubris and Accountability: Avoiding Leader Self-Destruction” in Leadership Chat at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. We expect it to be a lively discussion; you won’t want to miss it!
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Photo is of the marble statue, “Laocoon and his sons” c 200 BC currently in the Vatican Museums via Wikipedia Commons.