Conference 2013 overview: towards a business perspective on hubris
Our second conference held in Cambridge in 2013 marked “a major inroad in looking at hubris from a business perspective,” said trust chairman Lord David Owen in his concluding remarks.
“We are making good progress in building a cultural shift on the issue.”
Discussing the challenges of keeping character steady in the intoxicating environment of power, Lord Owen commented that “people in positions of authority have a special responsibility to recognise the dangers and act appropriately.”
The event, ‘The intoxication of power – leadership and hubris’, was organised jointly with Cambridge Judge Business School and held there on Thursday 19 September 2013.
The impressive line-up of speakers included leading management thinker Professor Manfred Kets de Vries of INSEAD and Martin Taylor, former Chairman of Syngenta AG and former CEO of Barclay’s Bank. Well attended, the even drew delegates from the business community including management consultants and HR professionals with representation from the worlds of psychology and academia.
“Our second annual conference was positioned for the business community with a multi-disciplinary approach,” explained Professor Nick Bouras who with Professor Christoph Loch, director of the Judge Business School, convened the conference. “Rather than focus on the theoretical basis for hubris, our speakers took a more experiential learning approach to identifying and managing hubris.”
The experiential approach was evident from the start with a novel presentation from Professor Nicola Clayton (Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge) and Clive Wilkins, artist and writer. The pair had delegates ‘taking to the floor’ and tangoing to support their thesis. Clayton and Wilkins argued that “there is a little bit of hubris in everyone.” Introducing the concept of “temporal myopia” they hypothesised that “It may be that we place too much importance on the self in the current moment (which contributes to) systematic blunders when we try to imagine our personal or corporate futures.”
The siren call
Professor Kets de Vries explained that “because candour flees authority, senior executives who aren’t careful will find themselves surrounded by sycophants. And in the senior positions of organisations, hubris can become a contagious disease. Leaders become easily intoxicated by its siren’s call.”
His presentation considered various aspects of hubris and its effects on organisations, and the ingredients that make for transformational leadership and high performance teams.
“The evolutionary roots of hubris and strategies to watch yourself” was the theme of Professor Christoph Loch. “As hubris is older than humanity. It represents a temptation that everyone is prone to. But this does not imply inevitability, only a need to be watchful in various ways.”
“The love of power does more damage than the love of money“ said Martin Taylor in a fascinating and candid overview of his experiences in the highest levels of management. He commented that of all the various avenues a leader could call on to retain a grip on reality, “a teenage daughter is the most successful puncturer of a CEO’s fantasies.”
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