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About Hubris

Origins & causes

Hubris Syndrome is an ‘acquired personality change’ ie. brought on over a period of time.  It is sparked by a specific trigger – exercising power.

In other words, people who appear normal achieve positions of leadership, but once in power seem to alter their behaviour. Lay observers may struggle to put a finger on the difference saying “he’s gone power-mad” or “she’s lost it”. But instinctively, they sense a change of behaviour.

Hubris Syndrome seems to be driven from within the individual as a result of the act of exercising power, and not by outside factors.

Causes of Hubris Syndrome

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There is probably no single cause.

Possibly it’s the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain, or perhaps the individual is taking medication that is changing their thinking (as UK PM Anthony Eden was in the lead-up to the Suez crisis, likewise President John F Kennedy at the time of the failed Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion).

It could also be that the tendency to Hubris Syndrome exists in someone but isn’t spotted in their personality or makeup. It only comes out when they are appointed to a job with high responsibility. When they have this power, great power, there comes a point when they can no longer accept any form of dissent and they take on a sort of messianic persona.

Why 'Hubris' Syndrome?

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The concept comes from the ancient Greeks and their drama. Typically, the hero wins glory and acclamation by achieving great success against the odds. The experience then goes to their head: they begin to treat others, mere ordinary mortals, with contempt and disdain and develop such confidence in their own ability that they begin to think themselves capable of anything.

This excessive self-confidence leads them into misinterpreting the reality around them and into making mistakes. Eventually they get their come-uppance and meet their nemesis, which destroys them…

Today we talk of hubris as the ‘pride before a fall’. In fact, hubris can directly cause the fall. But we must balance risk against failure.